Basic Camera Elements


Introduction to Large Format Photography


Lesson Info

Basic Camera Elements

So, those are kind of the considerations of what actually that options are around a field camera, but like I said, they all have the same basic elements. So, when we think about what is every camera have from large format standpoint. They have the same things. So, we're gonna take a look at on this camera, we'll cover what these are, so down here is the base. This is what basically attaches to the tripod, it's the bottom on the rail cam, on the rail camera it'd be the rail, and there's a little plate underneath it, with the tripod screw. We have the base here. This front piece is called the front standard. So this little piece of wood right here is the front standard. On the front of the camera we have the lens, and then the lenses is actually attach to a lens board. So, this board right here, the lens gets attached to that, and then that's what allows the lens to be put into the camera. So, one of the things about large for my camera is is the lenses are interchangeable. So just like ...

with 35 millimeter or medium format, we can change the lenses, and we're gonna talk a lot about lenses here in a second, but it is one the nice aspects of a large format camera. Once we're done with the front standard lens, lens board, this right about here, right at the back edge of that lens, where the plane is is the lens plane, and the lens plane is important on a large format camera, cause it's ultimately what's gonna help us determine focus. So a lot of times, you'll read, and you'll learn about the lens plane. This accordion element here is called the bellows. So, the bellows is basically a light type accordion, that allows us to move the lens forward and back to change the focus. Certain cameras have longer Bellows, certain cameras have shorter bellows. So, that is one kind of the key factors, in deciding what you're gonna do with a camera, but pretty much all modern day large format cameras have a bellows of some type. On the back here, this is the rear standard. So, the rear standard is where the films gonna go. So, right at the edge here is gonna be the film plane. The film plane is based on the ground glass. So, when you focus, you're gonna focus everything on the ground glass, and then when the film is put in it's at the exact same plane as the ground glass. So, that way you know your focus is gonna be sharp. So, we have the film plane. We have the rear standard, and then, right here, this pull pops out, that out for a second, and then there is where the films gonna go. So, you'll actually see me load the film later, and you'll get to see that, but pretty much every large format camera you gotta somehow get the film into the camera, and most of em have a piece that pops out like that, for holding the film. No matter which camera I pick up, if I pick up this one, I have a base, front standard, rear standard, the ground glass is hidden back in there, and then here's that little top that pops. So, that we can see how the film would actually fit into there. So, in that case, we've got all the same elements within the camera, our setup if I pickup the rail camera, here's the lens, lens board, front standard, rear standard, film plane, ground glass, base, so, not matter what you pick up, you're gonna have the same basic elements to the camera. Now, that being said, that all the parts are basically the same from camera to camera, you do have different options with the cameras. So, one of the things that happens with the camera, like I said, is we have all of these movements. One of the movements is something called a rise. So, on this camera, you can see how I can move that front standard up and down. So, I move that up and down, that's called a rise. This camera doesn't do a rise in the back, but this camera does. So, if I adjust this camera, I can make he rear go up or down. So, front and rear standards will all have these different movements, depending on which camera you buy it will have some or all of these particular elements we're looking at. A rail camera, the downside of its size, pretty much has all the movements, it's one of the benefits of the rail camera, that's why a lot of architectural photographers and studio photographers prefer to get a rail camera. They're usually cheaper, and they get access to all the movements. Another piece of movement that you need to consider is what's called a swing. So, you can see how I can basically, swing that front standard, left or right. That's the swing. If I adjust this, and I can actually make this go forward or back, those are tilts. I also have something called a symmetrical or asymmetrical movement. So, as I'm actually making the swing, if I look at this camera on the back here. You can see it centers, it tilts from this center point. So, as it does its swing, it's on a center point. This camera uses something called asymmetrical movements. So, as it makes its swing, you'll notice that it pivots from this point here. So, it's not pivoting from the center. The benefit of an asymmetrical movement is it let's you grab focus, just a little bit faster, as the film plane moves. Because it's not moving on a center point of the film plane. There's some optics behind that. Some of the way lenses work, but asymmetrical movements are something, that's just nice for quicker, easier focus, but not all cameras have them. Another element you need to consider is something called bellows extension. So, as I extend the camera out for focus, you can see, that the bellows gets longer and longer. Now, this camera actually extends out, on this side, about that far. So, I get a really nice long bellows draw. The farther the bellows goes out, the more I'm able to do macro work, the longer lenses I'm able to work with, so, there's some benefits to the bellows draw. Not all cameras have a really long draw. So, that's another thing you would need to consider, when you're thinking about the purchase of the large format camera. Another element, that really I think is important for people to think about is on the back right now, this camera is setup to shoot horizontal. Some cameras have a fixed film holder. They have a, the orientation is horizontal. So, just like with the 35 millimeter camera, you would have to rotate the whole camera, if you actually want to shoot a vertical, but a lot of cameras actually have what's called a rotating back. So you pull the back off. Now, we can see the inside of the camera, and you can see the lens on the other side. I'll take the lens cap off, and if I open the lens up, you actually can see the blue, hopefully through the back there, but that's the inside of the camera. I was in a horizontal, all I have to do is rotate the back, and reattach it, snap it in place, and now I get to shoot a vertical. So, most large format cameras, that's how you're gonna make the decision between horizontal and vertical, but not all cameras have that. Couple of other things around the back is these are all designed to hold sheet film. Now, we're gonna take a look at the large format film, but this holds an 8 x 10 sheet, you can also get what's called a reducing bag, which is an element you would add to the back of the camera, and it would let you shoot 4 x 5 film, or 5 x 7 film, and it's just an additional add on, you'd find that certain cameras offer. Some of them actually will even let you attach roll film. I get asked sometimes, like, well, if I got all the benefit of the camera, why would I wanna choose roll film, well, one I could actually get a roll film, that let's me shoot a really long panorama. So, if I wanted the benefit of an eight inch, or a ten inch long panorama, I could get a roll that would let me shoot that long. I also get all the benefits of the camera movement, shooting with the roll film. So, if there was for some reason, I decided I really wanted the control from a perspective for architecture, or whatever I'm working on, and still shoot roll film, I'd have the benefit of that, with the film back. The last little piece that you wanna consider, when you're looking at the ground glass, when you're looking at options for the camera is the actual ground glass. So, this is just a piece of glass, that gets attached, and this one has got a grid on it, and that's to help you focus. It's got lines to help you with horizontal and parallel focusing. You can also get these with what's called a frensel, did I say that, a frensel, frenzel f, r, e, n, s, e, l. Option, and what that does is it's gonna, it's little etchings on the glass, and it brightens the glass up. So, it actually makes it easier to focus, because once you get under the hood, and you're stopping down your camera to f32, f45, there's not a lot of light in there, and that will actually help brighten up the lens, or brighten up the image on the ground glass to focus. So, those are a couple of kind of the key elements around thinking about what you would consider from camera options, and like I said, each camera's got different options. You just have to decide ultimately, what you're gonna live with, and not all cameras have all those options. So, when I purchased this camera, one of the things that was really important to me was that I had, that asymmetrical movement. So, for the type of work I was doing, in the landscape, I wanted to be able to focus a little quicker. I wanted the benefit of the asymmetrical movement. There was also some tilt and shifts, that I wanted, but I didn't need all of the movement. So, I went on ahead and saved some money, by buying the camera, that didn't incorporate all the movements. This camera I got, it was like I said, it was my first large format camera I got. It doesn't have half the movements that camera does, but I loved this camera. I completely fell in love with this camera. The first time is opened up, I could smell the bellows. The guy I bought it from had shot two Polaroids through it, and that was it. So, it was this beautiful, historical. It's called a Deerdorff, is the brand of the camera, incredible camera, never been used. Fell in love with it, and when I got home, it had about half the movements I would normally want from a large format camera, but I loved it so much, that I actually, I kept it, and it's probably my favorite camera to shoot, I think just because of the experience of the first time I came across the camera. Once, you've made the decision on the camera, it's time to move on to the camera lens. So, when we're talking about lenses, there's a huge variety of lenses. This one of the coolest parts about large format photography. There are thousands of lenses available, and they go from bargain cheap to really expensive, just like regular camera lenses, and they come in a variety of different sizes. They come in a variety of different shapes, and we're gonna cover all of those details in a second, but with the lens, you're gonna need a couple of things, you have to consider. Jeanie, can you bring me a lens and a lens board? {Jeannie] You got lens boards? Yep. When we're working with a large format camera, you saw when I pulled that lens off, it was actually attached to the lens board. When you get your lens its gonna come, and look kind of like this. What's on here is a front element, the shutter, and the rear element, and these all screw off and come apart. So, I can actually take off the rear element, and now I actually have access to the rear element, and the shutter, and the front element will come off. So, sometimes when you buy a lens, it will come without the shutter. Sometimes you can buy just the shutter, and attach to a different lens. The thing that will mechanically fail with a large format camera lens is the shutter. So, unless you drop and damage the glass, the shutter will fail, and you can easily get the shutter repaired or replaced, without having to change the glass, but all large format lenses are gonna come in, and they're gonna have, set that over there, so I don't strip the threads, they're gonna come like that, and then you're gonna need the lens board, and we're gonna cover how to mount that in a little bit, but you're gonna need a lens board to actually attach the lens to the camera. So, when we look at an actual shutter, I'mma pull this forward here, all shutters have the same basic components. They're gonna have a way to adjust the aperture, which is this little one up, they're gonna have a preview button, which is, this is what opens and closes the lens. So, you have to have the lens open to be able to focus, and to be able to look at the image, and then to actually fire the shutter, and to make sure you don't over expose the film, you have to be able to close the shutters. So, there's gonna be a preview lever, over here on this side here, there's a little silver hole, this is a pc sink. We're gonna talk about doing some studio shooting. If you're gonna fire a flash, you to attach a pc sync cable, into a pocket wizard or to your flash so you can fire, they're gonna attach to that. The ring here is what, as I turn that, that's what changes the shutter speed, and then this element here is a shutter cocking lever, that's actually gonna cock the shutter, and then over here is the way for me to fire the shutter. Every little shutter has those same elements. So, if we take the shutter I was just looking at, here is the aperture, here's the shutter cocking lever, here's the shutter speed adjustment, here's the preview lever, here's the pc sync cable lever, and then, finally here's the shutter release. Now, on the shutter release we're gonna talk about in accessories, cable release will actually screw into there. This little piece down here will actually fire the shutter. It's what fires the shutter, but you're normally gonna use a cable release, because any movements gonna cause blurring, just like it would with a regular camera, and your often times working at slow shutter speeds. So, that'll be a piece for that.

Class Description

Explore a new (or rather historic) way of approaching your photography. When you learn to utilize a large format camera like a 4 x 5 you’re forced to slow down, observe and shoot sparingly. Artist and educator Daniel Gregory, will start with the basics like what exactly is a large format camera and why you should use one. He’ll demonstrate the art of using this workflow and give a guide that sets up up for success in the field.

You’ll learn:

  • How to setup and care for the camera
  • Camera movements
  • Metering and exposure techniques
  • How to pick the best shot when in the field
  • How to add studio light to a portrait
  • Color correction techniques using film and gels

Some of the most legendary photographs were shot using large format cameras. In this course, you’ll learn the art and technique that went into capturing those memorable photos so you can start to craft and create imagery on your own.



Daniel is an excellent teacher. His approach of teaching common mistakes and then explaining the proper way to do something is very helpful. The entire film series is excellent. I can't say I have a favorite over any of the others classes in the series. Each class covers great information. I learned photography back when digital didn't exist. Even after shooting film for so many years, I still learned some great tidbits from these classes. I highly recommend this series for anyone considering learning film or getting back into film.