Introduction to Large Format Photography

Lesson 2/17 - Large Format Camera Types


Introduction to Large Format Photography


Lesson Info

Large Format Camera Types

This is not the thing to photograph pro sports with. If you're gonna go out and shoot pro hockey, you're gonna shoot pro football with, this is not exactly the fastest camera to even turn to follow the action with, nor do I have any zoom, nor is the ability to focus very fast. So one of the big limits here is I'm just gonna go on ahead and not actually use this for things that are moving very fast. Now, Ian Robert, who shoots very large wet plate, so he shoots 20 by 24 and bigger wet plate, which is one of the oldest historical processes we have using a large format camera, he has shot snowboarders. Now, he's using about 20,000 watts of light and throwing some huge strobes off of generators up in the mountains, so it's technically possible, but it's one of those things you won't normally ever find people doing this. Cost is a factor. So, I mentioned that you can pick up the cameras relatively cheap. A sheet of eight by 10 film, a sheet of film, for one exposure is about $12 just for th...

e film. You then gotta pay about another $12 for the processing if you're not processing it yourself, so cost is a barrier for some people. The other piece is the cameras, for the most part, require a tripod. So if you're trying to carry something around, you basically have to carry it with a tripod. There are some cameras that are handheld. We have a Graflex here, so this is one of the other type of cameras, this is actually can be used handheld. This is a four by five camera, so it's kind of the basic, base size. And this image can actually be handheld. This camera actually works by focus. There's a sliding base here, so you can actually adjust the focus. Really easy camera to use. Really, actually, pretty lightweight. It was actually designed to carry with one hand. When we look back at, like, Dorothea Lange and Walker Evans and a lot of the cameras they were shooting with the Farm Administration, a lot of press cameras were actually shot with this. This is a press camera is one of the other names they use for it. So, you have an actual camera like this. You also can get something pretty small, like here's a little box camera. So this is actually a pinhole camera that shoots four by five. It's f-stop 256, so if that gives you an indication of exposure. But a little simple box camera, really light. You can actually carry this around anywhere. This is another option for a large format camera. This particular camera is a historical camera. Originally, when we had cameras, before the bellows came in, which is this little impact, this guy here, these cameras were actually set up so that we could actually move whole boxes is actually how we adjusted the focus, and we introduced the bellows at some point, so this camera sits as a hybrid between those. But this camera was really lightweight and was designed to actually be handheld as well, so you would actually look through here to actually focus and pick your picture up and then you would go on ahead and fire the shutter. So large format cameras could be handheld, but for the most part, the sizes are preventative from people actually wanting to work with them. I think one of the other big limits, too, is if you're somebody who's experimenting, and you're trying to figure something out, there is a benefit to shooting digital or smaller formats because you can shoot rapid images in succession and get feedback quicker. So I think a lot of times, and even in my own work now, if I'm definitely gonna be working with a large format camera, and I feel like I need to experiment a little bit, I will still use my digital cameras to try to figure out lighting or maybe a complex scenario of different gear that's gonna be setup. Because I can get that instant feedback. But once I'm committed to actually moving into the large format, I'm ready to actually then go in and use the camera and get back into that more meditative and contemplative state. So those are some of the kind of reasons why I think people would jump into large format. So, there's a lot of stuff up here. I wanna talk about the gear. I know people love gear and if you love gear, you are gonna love large format photography. 'Cause you can buy a lotta gear and it's swappable and interchangeable, so you can use it from camera to camera which is really great. So I think one of the first things we're gonna talk about is just the types of large format cameras. I mentioned a couple of them a second ago, but I wanna talk about a few other things about that. So when we talk about the types of large format cameras, one of the first things we talk about is size. So this camera here, is a four by five camera, so if we look at the back, this piece of glass is the actual surface area of the film. So this represents a four by five camera. This camera over here is eight by 10, so if we spin this around you can see that's the actual size of the negative here. So this is eight by 10. Large format cameras come in all sorts of sizes. So you can get them in four by five, five by seven, 11 by 14, a banquet camera which has got kind of a mild panoramic too, which is 11 by and they go up to about 20 by 24. Clyde Butcher, who's an environmental photographer in Florida actually shoots, still to this day 20 by 24, he shoots 16 by 20, five by seven, all sorts of different camera sizes. And he says a great photographer decides the size of the camera first, the lens second. So in that world of what to carry and what to do with that size wise, that's one of the first considerations. And I think that's one of the things for you to consider as you start to think about your gear, is what size would you wanna shoot? I would recommend that you start off with four by five 'cause it's the most readily available film and there's multiple films that come in that size. It also has common film holders and so from a price to barrier entry that's one of the lowest points. The next size up would be five by seven and that's a really common format for people to use. It's similar in aspect ratio to 35 millimeter so if you're used to seeing that, rather than the four by five aspect ratio, that's a great camera to get started with as well. In terms of other considerations for types of cameras, we have like I said, a box camera, which is something similar to what we have with the pinhole, where we have a box and a fixed lens in front, nothing really changes, everything's pretty static. For the most part today, if you're buying one of these cameras, unless you bought a really historical camera for, more for on the shelf display, you're gonna end up with something like a pinhole camera. These two cameras back here are called field cameras. So the reason they're called field cameras is they're designed to fold down flat and so later, once we get the camera lens out and we talk about that, I'll show you how they actually fold flat. But they are actually designed to fit down basically into a really small space and that allows you to transport the camera really easily with a backpack or in a shoulder bag or something like that. So they're field cameras because they fold flat. This camera's called a Monorail camera. So a Monorail camera has the basic same parts as a field camera, but it sits on this rail. This rail becomes the piece that allows all the different camera movements to happen, but this right here is as small as that camera can get. The rail, because it's fixed, is always the same size. So there's no extension beyond the rail, so it becomes a limiting factor if you're gonna need to carry this around. This is no smaller of case then the rail's gonna have. Where you can see here, if I spin this to the side and hold that up, you can see that side by side, this is just gonna fold down into a much smaller space than the rail camera will for carrying around. And we'll talk about specific reasons why you would chose a rail camera or a field camera here in a little bit. And then like I said, we have the press cameras, which are kinda the, the handheld design you wanna carry. You can find there's a lot of variations of this with different lenses.

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.