Puyallup River Slough

Rivers have side-waters--not channels, which move, but sloughs, which are transient wetlands

I took a new camera out today to test it out. It’s rather a complicated creature, and I wanted to see if the indoor practice during the last few days of rain had helped me work out the process.

But first, the slough. A lot of the rivers in Western Washington have side waters, often with a low dike between them and the river proper. The river cuts its own clear channel (often braided, due to gifts of gravel from glaciers), and there will be a side wall that forms either form human intervention (dikes) or because the slough was a former riverbed.

They are like many wetlands, but can be quite deep and long lasting. Trees and other large vegetation often get choked by the constant water, but reeds and other water plants are quite at home. Here in the Pacific Northwest, where there is water there will be blackberry, in all its fruity thorny joyfulness. :)

This square formatted image is cropped from a longer image; I had had the idea that the large dark tree at the left would be a good foil for the dead tree on the right, but…this works better for my eye. The mix of greens and blues with yellow, green, and orange feels solid and timeless to me.

I did not write down specifics, but the digital back captured some of the settings: ISO 50, 1/100th second exposure. The aperture was likely f/11, maybe f/16, judging from the slightly unfocused trees in the middle distance.

Why do I not know the aperture? Because this was a digital view camera—a type commonly called a technical camera. (Think of the old-time huge cameras with bellows and large lenses sticking way out in front.)

Thought old in concept, this is a thoroughly modern camera in many ways, but it keeps the old school features: the lens has a mechanical leaf shutter, and it attaches to the body of the camera using a board that stays with the lens.

It looks pretty spacey. Very modern. But at heart it is a slow, manual beast of a camera that requires a good deal of thought and consideration before taking a shot.

Mostly because it has so many available adjustments. Adjustments that are not present on any other type of camera: rises and falls, shifts, tilts, swings. It’s as if you could tilt the lens one way, and the sensor/film another way. (Actually, that’s exactly what it does.)


By doing so, you can work with the nature of optics itself. A scene does not automatically come entirely to focus in one plane, for example; some things will be too far away, some will be too close, to be in focus.

Further, it is possible to design a lens that will illuminate a larger area than the film or sensor occupies. That allows you to slide the lens around and choose what part of the scene to put on the film. (Why not just point the camera differently? Because then you will have bad things like converging lines.)

It’s a major exercise to cover this topic in full, so I will offer bits and pieces of information about this type of camera as I post images. For this image, I used the fall of the sensor to ‘see’ the upper area of the scene in front of me without causing the trees to lose their true shapes and angles. (By sliding the sensor downward, I move it into the upper part of the image because a lens inverts the image as it goes through it.)

For those who want (a lot) more information on how a view camera works, see this Wikipedia article.

The interesting thing about this view camera is the modern stuff in it, from the design to the way it moves. But the most interesting thing is the level of quality in the optics and the mechanics. The lens is cutting edge, with tremendous sharpness and very little distortion. It puts a really clean image onto the sensor of the digital back. Since the digital back is also high performance (it has better color saturation that even professional 35mm cameras, as well as better dynamic range and resolution), the results are amazing.

Sadly, I don’t have infinitely fast internet (I have rather slow internet, in fact), so I can only upload JPG images here, and they are a fraction of the size of the originals. However, I do try my best to capture the feel of these images when I convert to JPG.

I will be continuing to learn how to use this ‘new’ type of camera. Even though I have years of experience with film-based view cameras, digital is very different and requires different choices and skills. As I work out the methods, I’ll describe them in my posts moving forward.

Why go through all the trouble and expense? When I was young, I was amazed by the kinds of photographs I saw in publications such as National Geographic. I love being transported to a place or a special time with a well-made photograph. (I have also done news photography, where the point is more about capturing action or a moment, and technique has to take a back seat.) I do both types of photography, but rich colors and careful detail are my real joy.

How much resolution is in the full-size image? Here is a 100% crop of the tree on the right; it is a 5.4Mb file, even though it’s just a small portion and compressed as JPG. You’ll need to click to see it at actual, real full size.