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Through the Ground Glass: A Short Film About The Trials of Large Format Photography

By Justin Heyes on October 18th 2014

Large format photography takes a level of dedication that can be almost masochistic at times. If your camera weighed dozens of pounds, would you take it with you everyday? I know I would complain if had to carry the giant wooden behemoths that are large format cameras. In the short film, Through the Ground Glass, photographer Joseph Allen Freeman does just that; he shares his experiences with being a large format photographer, whilst spanning the mountains of Washington.

[REWIND: The Pain & Rewards Of Large Format Photography Shown In This Elegant Video]

In the film, Freeman speaks candidly about the the trials and tribulations of getting the shot. “You walk that line about being totally confidant and totally insecure at the same time.” He explains that all that pain and difficulty is what draws him in; his exhaustion brings clarity to his mind to help him focus on the shot. To help imagine his pain, the equivalent to carrying around a set-up like Freeman’s is like lugging around thirteen 5D Mark IIIs with a Canon 24-105mm f4 attached.


Freeman explains the experience looking though the ground glass, “I move the camera around, paying attention to shapes and forms, until it feels right. The line is like a melody and a texture is like tone and music… so once it’s tuned then that’s how you know that you’re ready to make an exposure.” Freeman continues in to the beauty of contact printing, how the print can out resolve the human eye as it were almost a slice of life. He uses a combination of selenium toner and tea (yes, the beverage) to produce darker tones and bring warmth to the images.


Large format photography is becoming a lost art that only a handful of people still practice, but it is not dead yet. It is astonishingly cheap to get into large format photography costing as little as $150. At that price point, you have a level of detail that digital can’t touch (not without spending a small fortune). Hopefully, the art form of the masters will still live on in people like Freeman. Check out the result of his labor on his website.

[VIA PetaPixel / Images Screen Captures]

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Justin Heyes wants to live in a world where we have near misses and absolute hits; great love and small disasters. Starting his career as a gaffer, he has done work for QVC and The Rachel Ray Show, but quickly fell in love with photography. When he’s not building arcade machines, you can find him at local flea markets or attending car shows.

Explore his photographic endeavors here.

Website: Justin Heyes
Instagram: @jheyesphoto

Q&A Discussions

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  1. Clare Havill

    Wow, the detail of the final image is stunning. You have to have real dedication to your craft to do this.

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  2. Arnold Ziffel

    I have always been fascinated by large format photography. I follow Clyde Butcher and his work and am always blown away….

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  3. Brian Stalter

    Pretty neat. I just wish the words on his website weren’t so hard to read…

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  4. Ian Moss

    Check out this guy. Stunning work, often with similar equipment.

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  5. Mircea Blanaru

    Very nice article about a cheap option with great results!!!

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  6. Blake Weber

    “I’m exhausted the whole time” …well then maybe you should stop smoking the damn cigarettes.

    Why did they keep showing him smoking anyway? That was really distracting and makes him look like an ass, especially the way he is hiking around in such a beautiful, natural environment. They must have showed him light up like half a dozen times in as many minutes. Are we supposed to believe he packed out all of his extinguished butts?

    Other than that it could have been a really cool video. But I half expected it to end with “Sponsored by Philip Morris.”

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    • Raoni Franco

      hmmm maybe they kept showing him smoking because he is a heavy smoker? what´s the problem with that? Would you have liked it better if they showed him playing with white bunnies? This movie is a portrait of him, and he is a freaking smoker. Get over it.

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  7. Peter Nord

    Got to do that when you’re young. I remember wandering around the Rockies with a 4×5 when I was 20. Now that I’m 75 I don’t remember it being tiring but just fun.

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  8. Dre Rolle

    Now that’s dedicated to your craft. Love how blunt he is in describing the whole thing, my knees hurt, my back hurts, but fcuk it just keep going”. Great film!

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