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Monday, September 1, 2008

Old World Charm

Fine-art photographer Ben Ham merges the best of a film-based process with the best of a digital process to create the quiet beauty of his nature images

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Photographer Ben Ham’s image “Dream Lake.” Ham uses large-format 8x10 cameras and lenses to produce larger-than-life, black-and-white images, which he then tones and prints through sophisticated digital means. It’s a marriage of old-world aesthetics and modern-day methods.
Ben Ham makes his way over a craggy landscape wielding a huge bellowed camera and an equally impressive tripod. He’s looking for just the right angle that makes the difference between art and documentation. It’s a scenario that could be from 1888. But this is 2008—a time when serious landscape photographers have the option to capture the breathtaking scenes before them not only in color, but also with high-resolution digital equipment.

While Ham is well aware of the evolution of photographic technology and, in fact, utilizes the digital world after processing his 8x10 sheets of black-and-white film, the South Carolina-based photographer finds that his classic form of image capture still yields the best results for his aesthetic.

Outdoor Photographer: Why do you shoot film with an 8x10 camera at a time when digital options can capture massive amounts of information?

Ben Ham:
There’s just something about the process I really like. Thinking about what I want to record and slowing down—it’s a real contemplative way to shoot. When I get out in the field, I look at the subject before I ever set the camera up. I do this for a couple of reasons. Initially, it was just the time involved setting up the camera, but then I realized that the process developed a better sense of seeing for me. I encourage people who are shooting in smaller formats or digital to put down their cameras for a few minutes and think about what they’re trying to say or capture in an image. That’s one thing I really like about working with a large camera.

Outdoor Photographer: When you’re heading out to create images, what gear do you carry with you? How do you keep the weight manageable?

Ham: I have an amazing camera made by K.B. Canham. Canham gets his bellows out of England. Before that, I was using a Wisner, which weighs about 17½ pounds. So when you carry that and four lenses and holders along with a tripod—even though I’m using a carbon-fiber Gitzo with a ballhead—it gets to be a fair amount of weight. The Wisner is a great camera, but this one weighs less than nine pounds; it’s black walnut and uses aircraft aluminum. The controls are really precise, and it’s a rigid camera.


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