Using Cameras Upside-Down

Why would anyone want to use a camera upside down? Well, there are at least four reasons.


This one is obvious. If your tripod won't let you get close to the ground in any other way, it will often let you reverse the centre column and hang the camera upside down from that. This is especially useful with monorail cameras, where the lens is necessarily some way above (or in this case, below) the rail: see (3) below.


There are times, especially when you are working on a still life, that it is a real nuisance to have to reach around the tripod. If you can hang the camera from a tripod or stand (right), it's all much easier. Often, too, it allows a lot more freedom with lighting, especially of you use a longer-than-standard lens to allow more stand-off between the subject and the camera. The Calumet Cadet on the right has more than enough movements to be used in any orientation you like, but here it is being used with a wide-angle lens and could not be brought close enough to the subect otherwise: a combination of this heading, and (1) above.




Calumet Cadet on Benbo tripod

cadet upside down


The third reason to use a camera upside down is a good deal less obvious, and applies only to a few cameras, mostly field or press types, where the front standard can only be made to tilt backwards. With the camera upside down, the direction of tilt is reversed: see also the module on camera movements.

mpp upside down

On the left, an MPP Mk. VII is shown being used upside down. The MPP has similar limited back movements to a Linhof, but of course, back movements change the shape of the subject, and front movements don't (or don't, anything like as much).

Unfortunately, MPPs prior to the Mk. VIII have only a backwards tilt on the front standard. The solution? Mount the camera upside-down, so that backward tilt becomes forwards tilt. You need a studio stand, or a big tripod with a cross-arm: this is the biggest Benbo. Actually, there is another way with an MPP. As well as the tripod socket on the base, there's another on the side of the camera, under the hand-strap. Mount the camera on the side socket, and swing becomes tilt -- and MPPs swing both ways, if you will pardon the expression.



MPP Mk VII on Benbo tripod


Although you can get away with a big, heavy tripod in the above cases, if you want to hang a really heavy camera upside down you need a heavy pillar-type studio stand: the sort that looks like a gallows with a movable cross-arm, as pictured on the right.

But if, instead of perching your camera on top of the cross arm, you hang it underneath, you have not only the advantages outlined above, but also the advantage that if you slacken the tripod head too much, the camera simply swings like a pendulum instead of crashing over, quite possibly crushing your fingers and possibly even causing the whole setup to fall over.

Furthermore, you can use a rather lighter tripod head for a suspended camera than for one that is perched on top of the arm. Yes, you can usually mount a heavy camera straight onto the cross-arm, but we find that a heavy-duty ball and socket head (the biggest that Paterson makes) is quicker, easier and more versatile.

Foba studio stand

We always shoot 10x8 inch portraits with our De Vere monorail hanging from our IFF studio stand. An example is the illustration below, shot with the De Vere and a hundred-year-old 21 inch (533mm) f/7.7 Ross lens. The film was Ilford FP4 Plus, scanned with an old Agfa scanner: you don't need much in the way of resolution when you are scanning 8x10 inch.


foba stand

Holly Lewis

As noted above, this is a genuine 8x10 inch portrait, shot with an 8x10 inch camera. If you look at classic Hollywood portraits, you will see that the subects are often in very relaxed poses. This trick is all but essential if you have to focus an 8x10 inch camera on the ground glass; close the shutter; insert the film holder; pull the dark slide; and then take the picture, without the subject moving.




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© 2010 Roger W. Hicks