OK, I'll jump in and help confuse you some more. Like a lot here, I've been down the same road you're contemplating and all I can say is 'go for it', unless you decide on digital then I say 'what???'
1) Workshops. Stay away from 'come bask in the light of a master' workshops. Take purely technical ones that teach hard core skills. You don't need inspiration right now, you need to know how to select and use a camera\lens(es) and how to do basic darkroom stuff. You don't really need a workshop for this, either, but they can be inexpensive and they can cram a lot into 1 or 2 weekends. Don't take a class with Paul Caponigro right now.
2) Get Henry Horenstein's books "Black and White Photography: A Basic Manual"
and "Beyond Basic Photography : A Technical Manual". Great easy to understand books, especially the 2nd one. Very hands-on.
3) Don't get hung-up on format. You're inner urges will tell you when\if LF is right for you. Some of the greatest of all time never used anything bigger than 35mm, so how do you know it isn't right for you? Making images is what counts in the end, not what format they are. If purist tones are what you're after then go big. But if great images are the end, the format doesn't matter.
4) Look at a lot of monograph books to expose yourself to the history of photography and it's great images and image-makers. This will help inspire you and show you what a great photograph is - and that isn't easy to define.
5) Be hands-on. Develop all your own negatives and practice what the workshops\books teach you. KEEP IT SIMPLE. Choose one film, one developer, one camera. Heck even one 50mm lens should make you happy for 6 months. Honest, don't go and buy 6 different types of film and pyro\d76\ID11 etc, etc. Get something like Tri-X or Plus-X and Rodinal. Work with them and learn them. If you take on too much too soon, you'll just confuse yourself.
6) Learn how to make a correct exposure and how long to develop for (expose for the shadows and develop for the highlights) and this will give you a good negative. Then, learn how to print by printing from them - you will need a good coach\critic here (APUG and a scanner can help). Can you rent darkroom space anywhere by the hour? If you enroll in a class, they may well rent you space after the class - many schools do that so you may get that chance.
7) APUG is a great resource, so use it. When you're bored or need to vent, feel to make a post in "The Thread With No Name" thread. Just don't say anything meaningful - there are plenty of other places to make that mistake. It's where all the great minds gather.
I got some extra lithium if you need it, just give me your mailing address
Mike, thanks for the excellent advice. I will look for the books you mentioned. I ordered a darkroom book, and Les McLean's Creative Photog book last night on Amazon. Will make another trip soon.
And Huram, fortunately, Lithium comes generic, and I have a DEA number. You can keep yours for the next full moon!
Lots of great advice (and lithium) from everyone. Mikewhi's version is almost exactly what I have done. Unfortunately the night classes I have taken proved to be frustrating (for me anyway, I can imagine how the instructors felt).
John Hedgecoe's books are numerous but are kinda generic- these were suggested reading in class. I recommend the 2-3 that were mentioned in earlier posts. There is also a decent book on building your own darkroom "furniture" but the two authors(and the name) escape me. Someone else here will know it.
The biggest influences on my transformation from snapshot shooter to the fine art (IMHO) print... (ok It IS a stretch of the imagination but I am working on it) was printing my own, and APUG.
Once you start doing your own enlarging/contact printing, you start to see the little things. You know, like, why is the tree growing out of his head, or my personal favourit, I could have sworn it was larger in real life?!
What ever meathod you take, learn it to the best of your ability and have fun!
Has anyone mentioned going to galleries to view prints? Well worth it IMO.
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You are on track already. Who says you have to spend thousands on LF. I got my Agfa Ansco 5x7 view cam for $200 with new bellows.
One thing I disagree with you about is letting someone else handle your darkroom stuff because your inexperienced. Forget that! You will learn way more actually doing the dark room stuff with your own 2 hands (I'm assuming you have 2 hands). Find a dark room and dive in. Don't be worried about how much you know or don't know.
Even if you do not have 2 hands, do your own darkroom stuff! This is one time when it is desirable to "go to the dark side"! haha
If you're interested in doing your own printing, I highly recommend Tim Rudman's _The Photographer's Master Printing Course_. After that, take a look and Chris Woodhouse's and Ralph Lambrect's _Way Beyond Monochrome_.
-Peter De Smidt