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Camera Movements

Lesson 11 from: Introduction to Large Format Photography

Daniel Gregory

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Lesson Info

11. Camera Movements

Lesson Info

Camera Movements

Now, the other piece I'm gonna show you, we're gonna go through the different camera movements you can do, cuz we've kinda just at a high level talked about those in the first segment, but we're gonna go through the camera movements and we're gonna talk about the front movements first, and like I said in the first segment, not all cameras have all movements. So depending on which movement you want it may or may not be available but for the most part this camera has nearly everything. So when we talk about front camera movements, it's used to control plane of focus. We can make shifts side to side to determine what's in the frame. Now with the front element, when I make my shift, which you'll see in a second, things move the same direction as they do out in with the subject in front of me. When the back moves, it's the opposite. So this is one of the things that, like I said, there's this amazing experience looking at the ground glass. Everything's upside down and backwards and it's rea...

lly cool. But, as you start to move things left and right the inclination's like, I move left, oh no no wait, I needed to go the other way. That's normal. People who've been doing large format for years will sometimes still swing or move the wrong way. So because you're getting to see the image it's an easy correction, but in general, the front, if you move the direction you're going it's gonna affect the objects in front of you the same way. Okay, right now, that setup there, if you look at this, onscreen, you can see the camera's in the neutral position and this camera's in the neutral position. Everything's straight up and down, there's no weird things that are cockeyed. The front is nice and squared up to each other. So this is neutral, like I said, this is where we always start from. I have had more times than I can count, I brought the camera out and there's been something a little off with the camera, there was a slight shift, there was a little tilt or something there, and things just don't work right, and it's because I didn't start at that neutral position. So it's always worth, I think, double checking for that. If you look at the camera, this camera in particular has there's little orange dots in front of the camera. These little orange dots tell me that things are perfectly centered. Not all cameras have that, but one of the things that I would recommend you do is to take either a piece of tape or something like that as you're getting started and just to mark your center points with tape and then that way you know if you're moving these positions where your centering point starts at. It's just a kind of easy, convenient way to get started. Okay, the first thing we can do is I can take a camera, and I can do a swing. So from the front, you can see the swing is the tilt of the lens either way. That swing is what it's doing is changing how the focus is gonna be created so the plane of focus is this way and it's changing the angle that way which is basically making that circle of illumination we talked about into an ellipse, and it's allowing the angle of focus to cut this way instead of being straight forward. It's really kind of a nice tool if you wanted to make like a fence line in focus and you want forward or back on the fence or you're working with the side of a building. If I change the other direction, you can see I get that swing the other way and now I'm working with the opposite parallel. So if I had that fence and I wanted the whole thing in focus I could also use the opposite swing to only put a tiny little bit in focus. So now I can really shrink that plane of focus into something small. Now I've make really, really aggressive adjustments here. For the most part, it's gonna be about that much. It's usually a tiny adjustment to get the effect you want. Anytime you read the literature or you watch a video like this, we make really aggressive movements so you can see what it actually looks like but the movements aren't actually usually that strong. The next one we're gonna have is this is a shift. So from the front you can see side to side I can make a shift. So this is gonna allow me to change what's actually being put in focus. So from here, looking directly at the camera, I can pick up everything on the right side if I switch to this side, I now am skipping everything on the right and I'm incorporating everything on the left. So without changing the position of the camera, I'm able to completely change what's included or not included in the frame, and that's really one of the powers of the movement in terms of image selection and how objects interact and interplay with each other. So I've got the shifts and on the screen you can see from above the camera's gonna move right or left. So sometimes it's easier to see the movement from above than it is from side to side. So even when you're working with your own camera sometimes it's nice to get up on your tiptoes and kinda see how much that movement is or if you're working when you first get the camera kinda get it on a table, just so you can see what those movements look like. The next one is, I can use a tilt, so if I loosen up these I can actually tilt the lens board so I'll make an aggressive tilt back or I'll make an aggressive tilt forward. So that tilt forward is gonna do a change to the focal plane. It's gonna allow the focal plane, let me tighten that up that up so it doesn't fall, that's allowing the focal plane to shift and it's a principle we're gonna talk about in a little bit under focusing called the Scheimpflug Principle, is the tilt of this, and it's a really great way for us to change how focus is considered on a large format camera that's not available to us under normal 35mm medium format cameras. But that little tilt allows us to really deal with how the focus is actually happening. And here you can see the tilt back and the tilt forward. Okay, so we've gone through basically most of the forward and front movements and when we talk about the back of the camera, the back camera movements which we're about to go through are all about controlling convergence of lines. So you have lines that are vertical, you have lines that are horizontal, those horizontal lines, those vertical lines, if you think about when you're using your 35mm camera and you point up to the top of some skyscrapers they all start to bend in and converge in. You can have the opposite effect where sometimes they'll converge out. Horizontal lines will converge in either direction like this or like this. Those convergents, we are able to control by using the back. Just like the front, we have the same basic movements in the back. So I can do a back swing and you can see there I've got a swing going one direction and I've got a swing going the other. So there you can see the two different swings. I come from this side you can see a little bit bigger on the swing there. Now this camera, like I talked about, does asymmetrical swings, so it actually has a little bit different pivot point. If we look it on this camera and we look at its swings, you can see it does a much more aggressive swing in either direction. So I've got the option of some cameras having more or less swing because this one's on a center point, it does a little bit harder swing off the rear element. The next piece is the back rear end tilt, so that swing this direction, that we just did, is for horizontal lines. But if I wanna deal with convergent lines of vertical lines, then I can tilt the lens back, loosen the right piece, I can tilt the lens back, or I can tilt the lens forward. So back and forward is gonna change the relationship of those vertical lines. Now one of the things that I really recommend people do is if you look at this camera there's all the knobs and different spots you can spin to tighten things down, what I recommend you do, is it's one movement at a time. So we've covered the basic movements of the camera. There is a back shift, none of these cameras have it. This rail camera has it. So a back shift allows the camera to move side to side so it basically just allows for, again, a shift in what's included in the photograph with that side shift. These cameras don't have that but with all of those movements it's really now about how do I take all of those various movements to create the image I want. But, I recommend you make one movement at a time. If you're trying to make multiple movements in the camera, all of a sudden everything is sort of loose in the camera. Things can move independent of each other and it becomes really difficult to keep the composition and focus you want behind the screen, so once you get something where you want it, you're gonna wanna tighten down whichever one of your controls locks that into place. So making sure those are nice and tight I think is really important. No matter which one it is, it's one move then an adjustment. So if I wanna adjust that tilt and then I'll tighten those down. That's, I think, really critical to make sure you're getting a really successful time behind the camera cuz if anything's even the slightest bit loose and you start to work and you move something else and the front moves or the back moves, you're gonna be like, "wait a minute, "that's not what's supposed to be there." You're gonna get frustrated and then you're gonna walk away, you're gonna come back, you'll zero everything out, you'll start over and it was all just because one little part was loose. So, with the movements, one of the things people ask is, "well how do the movements actually work?" In this example, this would be the common piece. People would have the camera zeroed out, and you would then point it up and I'd be like, "oh cool, I pointed it up "and now I have kinda the composition I want." But if you look on the ground glass there, you can see how the lines are converging. They're starting to fall back. What I'm gonna do, is I'm gonna straighten up the back of the camera. So when I straighten the back of the camera, I'll loosen the thing I just tightened and straighten the back of the camera so it is now parallel to the object I was just photographing. It's now gonna have the lines straight up and down. So my goal here is to look and say, "okay, the wall I've got was converged, "I bring this back to parallel, "and now I'm able to actually have the object "behind the ground glass parallel." If those were vertically converged I would go and do the same thing, I would make the adjustment on the swing until I got the vertical movement the way I wanted with those lines and then I would lock that into place. Then I'm controlling the different elements of convergence. You do not use all movements for all photographs. One of the things when I, you read about all these things, and they do all these things, one of the easiest things to do is to get yourself so sideways with the camera movements that you get yourself in a position where you can't actually get what you want in focus, things are vignetted, things are all weird, things are happening behind the camera that you can't sort out and it's because you've just gone too far with too many movements. The other piece that happens with a lot of people when they are getting started is this, like I said, is kind of a a slower process. It's more of an immersing process and it's a lot of problem solving in terms of how the composition should look. So as I'm thinking about the movements, I'm thinking about how to use these movements what I'm really trying to do is figure out what do I want to have actually have happen on the ground glass behind me, or in front of me, and then what movement would give me that. So by thinking about what goes left and right, top to bottom, is gonna make a big difference. Because if I'm making the decisions about just trying to randomly move things, I'm gonna get frustrated with the process. So if I know that when I raise this up basically the things in the ground, show up more. If I lower it, it's the reverse and I think to myself, "oh, okay, "what I want is more foreground, "which movement's gonna give me more foreground." And after you've done it about six, eight times and you start to realize oh, if the back goes up, I get more sky, that comes down I get that, you can really solve this as a puzzle for the movements. The other piece that happens sometimes is if you get yourself in a position where you just can't figure it out, you just don't know what's actually happening, you can't get what you want, always just go back to base zero. Go back and set an affinity, remove all the movements and start over. There have been a number of times where I have literally spent 45 minutes trying to get the focus right on the camera, and at the end of the day all I need to do was walk away, come back and I able to get the focus in 30 seconds. I was so in my own head about trying to figure out how to fix what I couldn't, I wasn't actually able to be successful with that. So in our overall process, we've mounted the camera, we've attached the lens, we've made the decision there, I've gone on ahead and applied my camera movements so I get the perspective that I want back here. Now the next thing I've gotta do is I'm adjusting perspective and I'm also dealing a little bit with focus. Focus is controlled by moving the lens forward and back. So I've got over here, on this camera, this knob actually moves the rail forward and back for focus. At a certain point, it is gonna exceed it's track, there's little tracks here for these three knobs, and then another knob will then continue the focus. So as this camera starts to extend out this becomes the full length of the bellows of this camera. This'll be used for magnification, if I was gonna shoot a macro object, I can extend the length of that out. Now we're gonna talk about in exposure how you would deal with this but I can rack this piece out, but each one of these knobs is gonna control a different perspective. This camera has the same thing. If you look on this side, there's a set of these two knobs and then there's these ones over here allow this to extend out. So every camera's got a point on the rail as it moves. For the rail cameras, it's the same way. You got two, in this case, this one moves the rail forwards, so here's the bellow's extension for this. So how far away this is from this, is all about focus. So that's one of the next things we have to think about is focusing, but as you're working through your movements, you're gonna be making some slight focus tweaks, you're gonna be making some adjustments to try to make sure you can still clearly see things. So you're gonna be making what I like to call the initial focus, or the quick focus, and then once you basically get perspective set, we're then ready to start... Make the jump, there we go... We're then ready to make the jump so that we can start to do fine tune focusing.

Class Materials

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Large Format Gear Resources
Slide Deck and Instructor Notes

Ratings and Reviews


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.


Very detailed Large format Course. Learnt a lot. Great job Daniel. Would love see in the future an in depth course building on this but for studio portraits and camera movements for portraits in different situations explaining why. Happy i purchased this.

Art Majerus

Shooting medium format since the 70’s on Whidbey Isand. Recently bought a 4x5. This class helped me clarify all the little things needed to get going. Well presented. Thanks

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