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October 27, 2010

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i’ve been interested in learning more about medium format photography, so i decided to get hands-on and i rented a hasselblad 503 CW this past weekend.  shit just got real around here.

the hasselblad camera is beautiful and in the hands of an able photographer, it takes really stunning photographs. there is a certain quality to the film photographs from a hasselblad that i really like… the light is almost “rounded” and very gentle. but still, it was a mixed experience for me.

instead of getting into the nitty-gritty technical details of shooting with a hasselblad (it takes some getting used to), i’m more interested in how it changed my perspective and made me want to take a different type of picture. there is something about a square format photo that changes things for me, and i really noticed it this weekend. i search for right angles, perpendicular lines, and i tend to shoot things head-on and from a distance. for me, the most valuable thing about using the hasselblad was noticing how my process of shooting a photo changed.

what i like best about using different cameras is getting to know each one over a period of time. and while i think my “style” probably does not change drastically when i am using one camera over another, i do think that certain cameras are better in particular situations. therefore, consciously or not, i will make adjustments based on the camera i’m using – and these adjustments are mostly content-based (i.e., the subject of what i am shooting, and how i compose the photo). i don’t know if that makes any sense.

with the hasselblad, i feel like i need a lot more time with it to learn how to best incorporate its particular qualities into my photography. first, i shot a bunch of photos at home with the camera to get comfortable with the basics (exposure, focus, etc.). and then i went walking around london and shot some photos, too. immediately, i noticed that i wanted to take photos from a distance, rather than shooting subjects closer to me. and it made me think hard about what i wanted to shoot.

i’m pleased with some of the results and i am sharing some of them above. i don’t think i captured the quality of light that i had hoped, and i am not too sure that the photoslook all that different from what i normally shoot (aside from the fact that they are 6×6, of course). that would probably change over time, i hope. but more importantly, i’m still considering whether it makes sense for me to invest in a hasselblad right now. i think it’s particularly suited to certain situations: studio photography and actual photo shoots, for example. if you are a regular reader, you know that i take photographs that are not, for the most part, staged or set up.  i snap photos “on the fly” or while walking around. if i lived in a more rural area, for example, i think a hasselblad would be an amazing camera to use – i’d probably shoot more outdoors and would incorporate the sense of space surrounding me in my photographs. but for walking around london (or another city), where things feel more cramped and i am usually on my way someplace else, i’m not sure a hasselblad is the right choice to put in my camera bag right now.

a few photographers whose stunning hasselblad photos have inspired me over the years:
lisa scheer
davide salvi
olga bennett
peter baker

i think they shoot beautiful photographs that really take advantage of the hasselblad’s qualities.

and if you have a hasselblad, i’d love to hear how you find it changes your photography (or not). i’ll have a few more hasselblad photos to share soon.

  1. October 27, 2010 8:08 am

    i feel the same way about my cameras. having my mamiya now for almost 13 years… its
    special relationship.

  2. October 27, 2010 8:32 am

    The light you captured in the fifth photo is actually very similar to other stuff you’ve posted in the past. I’ve never tried medium format (yet!) but I think I get what you’re saying about a whole different composition process. What lens did you use with the hasselblad? Maybe you could grab a cheaper medium format camera and experiment for more time to make it work for you. It would be great to see the results.

  3. October 27, 2010 8:38 am

    Perfectly said Brian. As much as I love my Hassy, I still don’t think I could ever have it be my “go-to camera.” The Pentax just fits that spot so well. And I also notice I prefer to shoot my hassy photos from farther away, which it why I like it for the beach. Although nothing captures a portrait like a hassy. I think it would be an interesting practice for me to just commit solely to the hassy for a month to really get into a vibe with it. Regardless, these pics are pretty great. (I have a really hard time with the rectangle to square format change when I shoot) xo, rach

  4. October 27, 2010 8:53 am

    well said. such a great learning experience for you. you might want to try a mamiya 645 if you want a medium format with a 35mm like feel. i love mine! obv, it’s not a hasselblad and it’s more bulky than a 35mm, but you can still carry it around easily and shoot the same way as you would 35mm. you might also like the pentax 6×7. it’s too heavy for me, but a lot of people love it.

  5. Darby O'Shea permalink
    October 27, 2010 8:55 am

    Ooh, Hasselblads are magical. I got to shoot with one for about a month a few years ago and fell deeply in love. It’s a big investment, though, isn’t it? I’ve got a Mamiya 645e now and love it (although it’s not a square format camera, alas). It makes me think a little more grandly in scale – I tend to make pictures of larger scenes when shooting with it and the length of the film makes me more mindful of what I choose to shoot (with other cameras, I tend to click off willy-nilly). I *learned* medium format on an old, janky borrowed YashicaMat and love love loved it. I think that makes sense as a first medium format camera – it’s VERY stripped down and makes you feel very close to the photos in a way that I haven’t felt with any of my other cameras. And they’re a damn sight cheaper than a Hassy (even though that’s what we all want anyway…).

    As to your photos: I love the first shot of the man on the ladder and I LOVE the photo of the old Merc.

    Another thought: B/W medium format is a religious experience. Try it.

  6. October 27, 2010 9:07 am

    I really love the 5th, 6th and 8th. They do seem different somehow. More please…

  7. October 27, 2010 9:12 am

    i hear you about the square format. when i first started shooting polaroid, that is exactly what i appreciated most about the process… framing my photos differently thus changing the way i looked at things (that and the milky goodness of polaroid film). i can’t really afford to shoot polaroid these days, though i long for it. as for the hasselblad, i think it suits you quite well (love the shots) but i agree, i think the hassy has mad love for rural settings. maybe you rent it when you head into the countryside?

    on another note, i think you would dig this shot (actually, i like most of her work on her website)

    happy wednesday.

  8. October 27, 2010 9:48 am

    These shots are great. It makes me want to take out one of my medium format cameras and get shooting!

  9. October 27, 2010 9:58 am

    These are gorgeous!!!

  10. October 27, 2010 10:13 am

    I have an ikoflex medium format camera, and while I love every photo it takes, it requires so much time and patience to take every photo – not to mention a strong shoulder to lug it around, that I rarely take it out. Each shot has to be so carefully set up because the viewfinder is on the top and backwards, and it takes me ages to take a photo. Most of my photos I take now are quick of-the-moment shots, so I understand what you mean about a different camera changing your style, because this camera changes my style drastically due to its restrictions. But also, those restrictions are kind of nice. I think so carefully about every shot when there’s only 12 to take. And I agree, it’s perfect for a more rural setting, I feel to hurried in NYC to use it.

  11. October 27, 2010 11:55 am

    Shooting with my Hassy always makes me slow down, even more so than my SX-70 – the ritual of lightmetering and focusing and then focusing *again* makes my images much more thoughtful, i love it. I actually appreciate the camera more in a city setting because it’s my pocket of quiet in the middle of all the bustle. Not the lightest camera to lug around, though

    I see in square these days :)

  12. October 27, 2010 1:58 pm

    Love the first one and the toast-and-jam, in particular. Mmm. Toast-and-jam.

  13. October 27, 2010 2:38 pm

    Have you seen Lucy’s photos on Nourish Me –
    I adore her work and know she sometimes uses a “blad” (as she calls it). Flickr stream here –

  14. October 27, 2010 4:19 pm


  15. Ashley Erin permalink
    October 27, 2010 4:49 pm

    I love the shot of the bread and jam! Fantastic work!
    I would love to shoot with a Hasselblad. For right now I have a pretty cheap medium format alternative, a Seagull. I still love it and medium format film is just so beautiful!

  16. October 27, 2010 4:57 pm

    There’s always a place for a Hasselblad! It definitely changes the pace of things, and certainly makes me think and reconfigure, which can only be a good thing. It’s always beneficial to shake things up, and if I ever feel stuck in a rut or uninspired, I pick up a different camera and go outside (it doesn’t always work but worth a shot!) I dream of one day owning a Hasselblad.
    Nan Goldin shoots on the fly with a Hasselblad, many of them portraits. Of course, her group of friends have been used to sitting for it for over 20 years, it’s harder with people who don’t know the workings of the camera. I hope you have alot of fun with yours, if you decide to get one.

    • October 27, 2010 5:18 pm

      amy, thanks for that info about nan goldin – i didn’t realize that, how interesting.

      i do love the hasselblad, don’t get me wrong. as i said, i really liked the way it made me shift my perspective and mix things up. but i just think it is unnecessary for me at this point – i wouldn’t be taking the sort of photos that i would like to take with a hasselblad. if that makes any sense.

      anyway, thanks for your comment. cheers brian

  17. yankeemiss permalink
    October 27, 2010 6:30 pm

    I go back and forth between medium format film, 6×9 and 6×6 zero Image pinhole film and my Canon DSLR. Each camera and format is used depending on the situation. I think you would learn to love medium format. For more medium format please check out the Flickr photostream of Zeb Andrews. He’s a wonderful film photographer in portland, oregon.

  18. October 27, 2010 8:00 pm

    I love love love the one of the sink. Normally I just love your photos but that one gets a little extra love. :-)

  19. October 27, 2010 9:48 pm

    those pictures are gorgeous really, I like the simplicity of those

  20. October 27, 2010 10:21 pm

    These pictures are too wonderful!

    Oh, and I have a question – what film ISO do you use for your indoor and outdoor shots?

  21. October 28, 2010 5:29 am

    there are some beautiful images here. also a big fan of olga’s work. she recently shot my look book. to have photos from a medium format camera is such a treat.

  22. October 28, 2010 6:47 am

    you need to pull the trigger and get one. seriously, the first one is amazing

  23. October 28, 2010 11:42 am

    a lot of good stuff to think about. i agree that medium format cameras are perhaps better suited for the country side. when i was preparing for a road trip this summer, i was madly looking for a nice used medium format camera (either a yashica or mamiya). i thought i could capture the ocean and forest and road better through that lens.

    but, damn, they’re heavy.

  24. October 28, 2010 4:56 pm

    i do feel the same – that different cameras suit different situations – and change the way i decide on a subject, or even see something in the first place. same happens for me with colour vs. b/w. i wish i could rent a medium format camera hereabouts, as i think it’s perfect to try and see if it’s the right choice at any given time to invest into one such serious piece of equipment.

    love your 6×6 shots, by the way.

  25. October 28, 2010 10:09 pm

    The photos alone rocked my 4×6 world (and the text nailed so much of my thoughts). Funny how a person can get so locked within a frame of reference. In photos, and life, I suppose. Crap.

    BTW, is that Tender Vol. 2 on the butcher block, there? Haven’t even seen mention of it, stateside, though I suppose you would get a good head start. As good as the first, I reckon.

  26. leonie permalink
    October 29, 2010 8:00 am

    you have an astonishing way of turning things that people see on a daily basis into something quite extraordinary and these are no exception. thanks for sharing your hasselblad experiences!

    do you know about the print space in kingsland road?
    they have an exhibition opening shortly that features the 2010 hasselblad masters.

    thought you might be interested in taking a look

  27. October 29, 2010 12:32 pm

    Hello, I love your work, it is intimate as love.
    I put a link to your blog on mine.
    If you like my work, are you agree to put me in your links ??
    so see you soon :)

  28. karin kleen permalink
    October 30, 2010 2:38 am

    These photos are really lovely (as all of them are). I’m also a New York expat and would like to know if you bought your Mrs Meyers products here or imported them from the states? I’ve looked but haven’t found…thanks!

  29. Megan permalink
    November 2, 2010 4:44 pm

    Aw! My friend in London recently moved on to a narrowboat (second photo down). Want to visit him – can’t imagine!

  30. lmilligan permalink
    November 4, 2010 11:12 am

    hi B.
    i don’t know how you could ever tire of your own photographs.
    they are always eye-opening for me.
    you have acquired Nigel’s Tender Vol II – how is it? i think it’s already on my Xmas list regardless..

    ps, if november is your B&W month you should definitely take a weekend break in the gritty northeast, perfect for B&W.

    best, L.

  31. November 5, 2010 4:24 am

    Such beautiful images, as always!

    My journey from digital to film to medium format began about six years ago, and once I hit 6X6 I never looked back. I tend to see everything squared these days….:-)

  32. November 7, 2010 7:37 am

    they are lovely images. its nice that you could rent it – it is a big investment. I feel like when I get my hands on one, I won’t want to put it down.

  33. November 9, 2010 8:53 am

    I shoot medium format (not with a Hasselblad) and I find it to be more intimate than 35mm.

    Your series is stunning, especially the two shots taken in the kitchen.

  34. March 20, 2011 6:02 pm

    Hello! I am looking for a bit of advice and hopefully some good news. Since college I have been searching for a hassy. I also LOVE the way it shoots, feels and of coarse the fact that it produces square format images which I am in love with. Recently, I came across the Mamiya 645, mint condition with 2 lens’s. I honestly don ot have a huge knowledge of medium format camera, but this got my excited. But to my surprise, after taking it home, playing with it, falling in love with the shutter sound; what I think I discovered is that it in fact does not shoot square format, and I would be lying if I said a small part of me is really bummed over this………. Is it possible to change the format to square perhaps with a different prism top or back where the film is exposed? I have shot for years in the format/size that the 35mm neg produces, and was beyond thrilled to finally shoot square. If anyone knows if it is possible that this camera can shoot square I would really appreciate any information you can give me!

    Thank you,

    Your deprived square format shooter,



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