Introduction to Large Format Photography

Lesson 16/17 - Shooting Indoors: Set Up


Introduction to Large Format Photography


Lesson Info

Shooting Indoors: Set Up

Okay, welcome back. We're in the studio, and we're actually gonna do a portrait shooting. One of the great things about large format photography is it creates just beautiful beautiful portraiture. Traditionally, if you wanted to do a one-to-one aspect ratio you'd shoot an 11 by 14 camera, and basically somebody's head is about the size of an 11 by 14 camera. That's a little extreme, I think we're gonna be just fine using a four by five camera. What I've got set up here is I've come into the studio, and I've done my initial kind of set up, and what we've got is Gina, my assistant for the day is gonna play two parts. She's gonna be the assistant to show you kind of how we get prepped for that, and then she's in fact gonna be the model as well. So she'll be pulling a little double duty. But when I'm getting set up in the studio, I like to come in and kind of get a sense of the background, the backdrop, all the normal things you would if you were doing studio work. You're gonna think about...

what kind of lights do you wanna use, what kind of of lighting do you think you're gonna need, and the basics of flash photography, the basics of studio photography are identical when you're working with a large format camera. So there's not a lot to learn in terms of exposure or processing. There are a couple of differences. One thing is a large format camera doesn't have TTL. So there's no through-the-lens metering. So for those of you who've been doing TTL and thinking manual is crazy, it's time to jump on the David Hobby bandwagon and get on the manual programming for your flashes. You're also gonna need to be able to, either through a cable trigger your flashes, or wirelessly trigger your flashes, so I actually have been using PocketWizard for years with my large format camera. Any one of the wireless systems will work as long as you can plug in a PC sync cable into the lens. So when we talked about the gear earlier, we talked about needing the special kind of adaptor that actually plugs into the lens, and that's the PC sync cable. What that's gonna do is when the lens fires, it sends a signal to fire the flashes. You're gonna need that, some kind of device attached to the lens that's gonna allow that PC sync to send that signal. So I'll be using a PocketWizard, and then on each of the Profotos I've gone ahead and just slaved in an additional PocketWizard, and they've plugged right in. So no matter what, whether you use an Elinchrom, whatever you're using, you're gonna be able to attach a cable for that and use the PocketWizard just fine, or Photex, or whoever you're using from a wireless standpoint. I'll cover actually getting that attached early on, 'cause I don't like to have that attached while I'm doing my initial set up because it's a big block that's gonna sit on top of the camera, and I just kind of find it visually distracting, and it kind of takes me out of the moment. For this particular set up I kind of love the wall we've got back there. It's got a nice white wall, nice texture, and then I've got a couple of soft boxes set up, and so what I'm kind of looking for is just the style of lighting I'm looking for would be exactly the same. If I'm looking for Rembrandt lighting, if I want high-key lighting, it's pretty much all the same. But because the camera takes a little bit more effort to focus than just grabbing a DSLR and actually shooting, when I am setting up, before the model shows up, before the subject shows up, unless it's somebody I know really well and they're comfortable with the sitting process, I usually have my assistant sit in so we can get some of the basics done. So Gina, why don't you come on over and have a seat. So, this camera, because of the shoot we're doing for Gina, she's actually gonna be modeling and holding up her camera. So this is one of her favorite cameras she shoots with, this is a twin lens, medium format camera, beautiful camera, so she's gonna be modeling that similar to this. And so what I really wanna do is just kind of get headshot and the camera, where she's kind of holding it up like this, we're gonna get that shot established, and because I kind of want to emphasize a little bit of that camera, I'm gonna shoot a 180 lens. So it's a little bit wider, so I'm gonna get a little bit of the pull to try to kind of emphasize that camera coming forward a little bit, and so normally I would probably be shooting at 210, 240 millimeter lens on a four by five for traditional portrait, and just like with regular portrait shooting with a digital SLR, I would end up being a little farther back to get the same framing element with the longer lens. With Gina set up in the spot, I've kind of loosely got the lights kind of where I want. When I'm setting up lights, I don't know how everybody else does it, but basically what I do is I kind of think about, I kind of want this light coming in at about a 45 degree angle, I kind of like this light, the one by four strip, I want it just screaming across the front because this camera has some metal highlights on it. Really what I wanna try to do is just catch the side of her face a little bit, and then see if I can scrim that light across the front of the camera a little bit. If you're just getting started out and you're not really sure, and wanna trust the lighting and metering and what you're seeing, you can use a digital SLR to do your testing at this point. So you can kind of set the camera up, and then shoot the DSLR right next to it, and that'll give you a sense of particularly what the lighting's looking like, so if you're not comfortable with studio lighting, or you're just getting started, that's a great way to go. And if you don't wanna use strobes, you can absolutely use hot lights, that's also a great way to go. Now because we're using studio strobes, I'm gonna go ahead and use my incident meter, and this particular meter from Soconic is set up so that I can wirelessly fire the PocketWizards that are attached to the Profotos. So if I fire that, it will, there you go, fire off both of my lights, if I get in the right spot. There we go, it'll fire both lights. What this is gonna do is I've got set in the ISO, which is 200, so the film we're gonna be using is Tri-X 320, but in all my film testing, that film actually needs to be overexposed by about a stop, so 160, 200, somewhere in there. So I'm gonna expose the film at 200, so I've got my ISO dialed in at 200. Now when I come in to check my lights, one of the things about the large format cameras, if I look at the lens I'm on, my lowest f-stop is eight. So even if I was completely wide open, the smallest f-stop I have is eight. So for those of you who are used to shooting at 1/ and not having to turn your lights up, you're gonna be turning your lights up when you're using large format because you're gonna be at these higher f-stops, and it's gonna require more power. If I use my digital SLR, a lot of times I can just fire and make some decisions for the lights, but because I don't have that, I've gotta actually see how much light is being balanced from one side to the other. So one of the things I'm gonna do is come in here, and I'm just gonna quickly check my lights, and I'm gonna fire basically, place my incidence meter on this side of her face and fire, and this tells me what the light is that's kind of hitting this side of her face, and I'm 1/60 of a second, at f11. If I come to this side of her face and fire, I'm at 1/60 of a second at f22, so I'm in a two to one lighting ratio, which actually is okay for me for what I wanted to do, is I don't wanna have a really heavy shadow on her left side, so that two to one lighting ratio is gonna give me a really nice look. Now if I wanted a three to one lighting ratio, and I wanted a deeper shadow, I could come over here and actually dial down my Profoto, or I could move it back, depending on what I wanted to do from the effect, but that isn't gonna allow me to go ahead and make that change with the lights. But in this case, we're kind of set up for two to one, that's pretty much what I want. So what I'm gonna do now is I'm actually gonna fire the lights, I could turn on the modeling lights, but they don't really kind of show me the relative power that we're gonna have, so I kind of just fire the lights a couple of times, and just kind of see how is the light actually hitting her face. So what I'm looking for is how harsh is the light hitting. Is it screaming across the side or not? So when I look at this light, I'm getting a nice kind of scream across her cheek, and then when I hit this light, I kind of see that that's filling in, and it's gonna fill in her side, and I should pick up the camera from that. So I've looked at that, and at this point, I've gotta completely trust my meter. So if I'm not gonna use a digital SLR, I gotta completely trust the meter. If it tells me if I'm in two to one ratio, I'm in a two to one ratio. So, learn to trust your meter. If you don't trust your meter, like I said, get your SLR out, take a couple of test shots, and you'll learn that your meter is in fact not lying to you. At this point I've kind of got the lights set up, and the next thing I'm gonna do at this point is I'm gonna go ahead and ask Gina to kind of get in the pose she is. So Gina, I want you to kind of get in position there, we're gonna pull your right shoulder back just a little bit, perfect, and you're gonna kind of look off to this spot out here, perfect. So that's kind of the position I wanna have the person in when they're actually taking the picture. So at this point now, I've got the camera set up, I've zeroed it out, so I've got the camera at that neutral position we talked about, and at this point I'm gonna go ahead and make some decisions about, is there something I wanna change from a positioning, do I wanna change, do I have any convergence, do I wanna accentuate the angles on that back wall, do I wanna make them push a little bit to see if I can get some depth in the background. Also, down below I've got a power conduit that's coming down, so there's a pretty good chance, given the proximity I am to her, that I've got that power conduit in there. So I like the position here 'cause if she's holding that camera, she's not gonna have to hold it too high, where the camera's sitting. If I come back farther, I'm gonna pick up more of the floor. So in this case, I think subject to distance wise, I'm probably okay, but in order to check all that I basically have to get under the hood, so I'm gonna pull out my dark cloth, and I've gotta go on ahead and take a look. Now what I'm noticing now is I'm in the horizontal, because my back is horizontally placed, so what I'm gonna wanna do now is actually flip that because I've already decided by looking at this, I know I want that to be vertical. So, I've got my point of view now, camera set up, camera zeroed out, flashes are basically checked, now I'm gonna go ahead and flip the back of the camera, so that I am in a vertical orientation for a vertical shot. What I'm gonna do next is make sure that I'm in fact at f/8, so I'm gonna make sure that I'm as wide as possible, 'cause when I get under the dark cloth now, I don't have a lot of available light for me to look at, so I wanna make sure I'm gonna get as much brightness back there as possible. So I'm gonna go ahead and get under the ground glass here, and then I've gotta open the shutter, so I've got the shutter open, and now I can see Gina pretty well under there. And I'm gonna go on ahead and do a light quick focus, and just make sure I get her relatively in focus, and that looks okay, and I can in fact see that pole. So the pole's there, so I've gotta know now I've gotta deal with that pole somehow, and what I can do then is I can do with raising or lowering the back, or raising or lowering the front, so it's gonna depend on how much perspective control I want when I'm using that back, 'cause remember, the front standard is all about focus control, the rear standard is all about controlling that perspective. So I'm gonna take a look under there and decide, how do I wanna deal with the various elements that are back there. So if I go on ahead and make a little swing there, I can kind of actually change the orientation of Gina's shoulders a little bit, and I can actually emphasize that front shoulder, or de-emphasize that front shoulder, so I'm kind of looking at that piece, and then I'm gonna swing the front and see if I have an emphasis there, pushing her a little bit left or right, and does a shift, actually moving her like from a rule of thirds to an off-center piece. So I'm gonna go ahead and pull her a little bit off-center using a shift in the front, and in the back, I'm gonna go on ahead and just give a little bit of a tilt, a little bit of a swing, just to kind of bring that shoulder that she has in the front a little more forward. By bringing that a little bit more forward, we're gonna create a little bit more depth in the photograph. So I don't actually have to have her change position, what I'm doing is elongating her shoulders, so I'm actually making her seem a little bit broader in the shoulders, but because it's going back in the perspective plane, it actually just kind of flattens out her shoulders a bit, and gives her a little bit perspective depth from the back wall. The next thing I've gotta do is deal with that front pipe, so I've gotta bring that front pipe up. So what I'm gonna do in this case is actually raise the front standard to get rid of that. That's all fine and dandy for me to explain what's going on there, but what we're gonna do now is I'm gonna go ahead and have us take a look under the dark cloth, let's take a look under the hood, and I wanna make some of those movements and with Gina sitting there, you can start to see how that perspective is changing, and how we're able to move and make things appear and disappear as we work through that process. Okay, so you're able to see the ground glass now, so you can kind of start to see what some of the movements are. So in this case, one of the first things I'm gonna do is I talked about needing to deal with that pipe in the background. So if I move the front standard goes up or down, you can start to see how that pipe appears as more dominant, the floor appears or disappears as we move that standard up and down. So that's allowing me to control how much of the top to bottom is being included within the frame. If I lock that back off, you can see now if I do this shift in the front, you can see I can change her relative position in the frame. So when I talked about moving it a little bit off the thirds, off-center, I can use that shift to make that change, and not have to have the model do anything or move the tripod in that regard. Here's that perspective of moving the back. If I swing the back, you can see how that changes her shoulder position, and changes a little bit of the parallel nature of the wall in the background. So as that movement happens, what I'm looking for is just where am I starting to get the shape and form that I want. Now because everything's upside down and backwards, one of the things happens, particularly when you're working with people, you have to remember that it's backwards for you, so when you ask them to move their right arm or left arm, or move their shoulder, it's gonna be completely backwards. Now luckily for most of us, we ask somebody as the photographer to move their right shoulder, they'll move their right shoulder, and we really meant their left shoulder, so usually actually works out. But just because everything's upside down and backwards, you also have that piece. I really quick wanted to show you what happens if we make the change to that tilt in the background, about how that changes perspective convergence. You can see how I can really change the shape of what's happening in the frame by that back movement as well. So one of the pieces here, like I said, is it's not aggressive movements, it's small subtle movements we're gonna make to attempt to get those object line, form and textures to really come together. So now we're gonna go on ahead and we can step back from this. We'll get the position kind of where we want, and then we'll pick up with how we do the rest of the shoot.

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.