Phase One: In the field

I have been using a Phase One camera system for my Human Canvas images over the past couple of years. At 60 megapixels the detail and resolution is so sharp I can enlarge the final images to life size and beyond, critical for this body of work. I have always shot with it in a studio, where the camera was mounted 16 feet above the floor in a warehouse ceiling and tethered to a laptop where it was triggered with a key-stroke. That was a collaborative experience, so I wouldn’t say I really got to experience the Phase One one-to-one.
So, that begs the question…what about using it outside of the studio setting?

I recently set out into the Cascade Mountains to find out. Even though it is a medium format camera system, the Phase One still fits into my same old camera bag. I just needed to move one little Velcro divider around to accommodate it.
It was far from an ideal day for photography – there wasn’t a cloud in the sky, the sun was at its peak overhead, it was hot, mosquitos were out and nothing was really calling out to me. With lunch in mind I saw a large patch of snow in the distance with a stream running out from under it. Since I’d hiked above the tree line, this was the only potential shade within reach. In anticipation of dipping a handkerchief in the cold water and eating some lunch, I set out for the snow bank. And that’s where I saw it…

The stream and winds had carved out a large tunnel under the snow, and even from the entrance I could begin to see shades of blue, deep in the cave. I’ve been a mountaineer almost my entire life, climbing the volcanoes in the Northwest, crevassed glaciers, even climbing to the lower level camps with an expedition on Mt. Everest, so I knew this situation had “extreme caution” written all over it. Looking over the snow, wall thickness, and arch of the top, I decided to proceed as one would on a snow bridge over a crevasse – very cautiously.
I stuck very close to the side walls; if the roof was to collapse this would have been the safest place to be. Moving into the cave was like entering a cathedral. A reverence for the beauty of the unexpected display was overwhelming.

Immediately I saw the potential in abstracting the icy blue glow of the ceiling fueled by the direct sun overhead. I used a 55mm lens (34mm equivalent), my attention fully focused on the otherworldly qualities of the ceiling. Looking through the viewfinder of the Phase One, the patterns and lines abstracted into soft human forms, suggestive of the Rubenesque feminine ideal form.

At other times I was drawn to the lines within the form, like the layers of geological time recorded in a rounded stone found alongside a river. The colors varying between blues and yellows only added to the final composition.

Shooting and shifting my point of view I worked the ceiling as a subject finding more and different compositions with each new angle. I could have stayed with this subject for hours. It was so unexpected – a real treat for what had promised to be a rather bland day.

The Phase One system is very intuitive with a huge LCD and touchscreen menus. I was able to easily navigate the functions to set up the camera for the way I like to work, even in the cave. When you are talking about a medium format system, it’s all about image quality – and this one delivers. The system combination of superb Schneider Kreuznach leaf shutter lenses, 645 DF Camera body and IQ 160 digital back produce the sharpest and most detailed images I have ever shot.
So what’s next? I’m currently on tour through Europe visiting familiar landscapes as well as some new ones. I have the Phase One with me and I can hardly wait to see the results when I get home and begin enlarging these images to prints. This camera system is able to capture the grand scenic landscapes in unprecedented detail and clarity. If only I could have had my hands on one since 1978.
When it comes to the big picture, Phase One wins out.
~Art Wolfe

Join me on the Phase One Digital Artist Series (PODAS) Workshop in Kimberley, Australia in June, 2013. >>MORE INFO

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