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Camera Work: A Case of Good Judgement

W.H. Jackson in Yellowstone


I gotta tell the truth. This isn’t what I wanted to do this morning but massive failure between my intent and WordPress caused abandonment for this time.

Anyway, Christmas found me with a nice Amazon gift certificate so I decided to pursue the ultimate camera case, or rather, ultimate backpack.

Should be easy, right?

Wrong! My first choice has already been returned, and at 6 bucks return costs, pretty soon that certificate will have vaporized.

I’ve been musing on this problem for some time now, and a historic look back is an interesting journey. The photo posted is of W. H. Jackson and his equipment on the way to Yellowstone.

Here is a list of what he carried:


  • 2 or 3 cameras for different size lenses

  • lenses and plate holders for each camera

  • 2 tripods

  • dark tent or dark-box

  • 10 pounds collodion

  • 2 pints alcohol

  • 1 pint ether

  • 1/4 pound each ammonium iodide and ammonium bromide

  • 1/4 pound each cadmium iodide and cadmium bromide

  • 3 pounds silver nitrate

  • 10 pounds ferrous sulfate

  • 1-1/2 pounds potassium cyanide

  • 6 ounces nitric acid

  • 1 quart varnish

  • package of filter papers

  • canton flannel and rottenstone

  • 3 negative boxes

  • processing trays

  • various bottles for chemicals

  • scales and weights

  • 400 pieces of glass


Now Jackson’s work there, using an 11×14 camera was critical in the establishment of the National Park Service and Yellowstone as the first park. Today, a mid sized DSLR, hanging around you neck will do the job perfectly. In fact, a good cell phone does it also. Most people simply look on line and not for prints. But in the 19th century the problems were serious indeed.

Consider the setup for a shot.

First, a good source of water. Next, a tent is erected, a dark tent. Unloading equipment and supplies, the camera is set up for the shot, focused and made ready. Jackson disappears into his tent,lays out a glass plate chemicals and developer/fixer. He coats the glass with his light sensitive colloid, inserts the glass into the holder, rushes to the camera, inserts the holder, pulls the dark slide and makes his exposure, by guessing (educated, of course!)

He then takes the holder back to the tent, removes the glass plate develops, fixes and washes the plate and let’s it dry. By now, he knows what he has and if necessary, re-shoots. Otherwise, it’s pack up and move to the next site where the process is repeated.

The negative has to be shot and processed before it dries otherwise the light sensitivity disappears. Frequently, you will see prints from that era which has dark corners, due to the fact that the plate dries from the edges, corners first. That darkening effect is carried on today, although subtly, especially in portraits, as it concentrates the viewer’s focus on the image, a rather fortuitous outcome from otherwise a defect in processing. We deliberately darken corners on most images.

Consider today. Encounter a scene. Pull the camera to your eye. The software decides exposure. Press the button. The software does the rest.

Back to my search. When I went to Alaska in 1979 I carried over 80 lbs on my back. Some where, I have a selfie (yep!) of myself sitting at a table with some of the gear visible, along with the pack. If I find it, I’ll post it.

So I am looking for a day pack one that give me instant access to the camera without taking the pack off, that weighs little, that carries a bit of food, water and weather protection, and doesn’t look like I’m heading to Alaska!

Piece of cake, don’t you think? Jackson would probably give me the evil eye!

Image from NPS files, Public domain

Alaska and Me, ©1979 Lawrence Hudetz

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Lawrence Hudetz

Lawrence Hudetz