Large Format Photography
Large format photography offers a unique level of quality. The kind you can only achieve with 4 x 5 inch negative sheet film and not rolls of spools. In short, you can create massive photographs with large format photography ranging over 8 x 10 inches. It is perfect for the landscape loving photographer. It not only delivers a large photo but also exceptionally crisp and beautiful results. Ansel Adams himself swore by large format photography.
Large format begins with 2 x 3 inch photographs but more commonly 4 x5 inch or 8x 10 inch sheets are used. This method of photography produces the largest sized photographs that can be captured with negative sizes. In order to operate a large format camera one must perform everything manually. The metering, focus, loading and unloading are all done manually. It is quite a task to capture one exposure. A large format slide film must be individually loaded in absolute darkness onto its film holder and additionally unloaded in absolute darkness once it has captured the exposure. Although, this camera format seems impossible to use -the produced image quality is impeccable. Due to the sheer size of the film's largeness, the resulting quality surpasses all roll or digital film formats because you need not enlarge much. One does not have to compromise resolution when using such large film.
The large format camera looks as if it was from another time. They are bulky with lens and film planes called standards. These standards have flexibility due to their connection by light proof bellows. There are several different types of large format cameras. The two most popular types are the flatbed and monorail cameras. The monorail camera is large and chunky causing the camera to be very hard to transport making it ideal for studio work only. It can capture 8x 10 inch photographs, so needless to say it is very large. Its standards run along a single rail which gives the camera its name - monorail. The flatbed camera is a lot smaller than the monorail. Its 4 x 5 inch format allows it to be folded up and transported easily making this camera ideal for outdoor work. Many architectural shots as well as landscapes are captured on a flatbed camera. Flatbed cameras are also commonly known as field cameras because of this work.
Large format cameras are considered a phenomenon amongst photographers because they work without electronics or machinery. All these cameras consist of are a light proof box with a lens on one end with a film back on the other. The camera's lens works as a viewfinder. The image is captured through a projection on a ground glass screen within the film standard. This image is typically screen in the dark with a cloth slung over your head. Everything to capture this type of photograph is done manually -your frame, your shot, selecting your exposure settings, and then sliding your film into the holder. Once you capture your shot with the cable release - Wolah you have captured a large format photograph.
An interesting part of the large format camera is its large format film. This film is obtained in sheets instead of rolls and thus making it mandatory to be loaded in absolute darkness. If you would like to load your film right before capturing the shot, one must obtain a lightproof loading bag. This makes loading your film quite the challenge since you cannot see what you are doing, you must feel your way through it. The film must be loaded through the film holder and then slid down into the camera back. The camera back can load two film sheets at a time with a protective dark sheet layer. At last your film is loaded and now you can begin framing your shot.
In order to correctly frame your shot you must understand the camera's movements. It contains rise, shift, fall, swing and tilt movements. The back and front standards are able to move on their own while maintaining a parallel plane that can move from side to side or upward and downward. This movement helps your focus avoid distorting. Distortions usually occur because of the camera's laws of perspective. The angle of the standard can be changed by tilting it down or up or swinging it side to side. This will aid in achieving a variation of depths creating field affects. It is usually a challenge to create blurr affects with larger landscapes since the subjects are usually a fair distance away but this movement allows the focal plane to be shifted creating said blurr effect. The middle of the lens can stay at the same level while the upper and lower plains move away and towards the film and subjects. You can use both tilt and shift movements to decide which areas you would like to keep in focus and which areas you would prefer to blurr.
Although, all of this information can should over whelming and discouraging - do not fear the large format camera. Practice always makes perfect and when you view and manage the camera at first hand it will all make sense. The large format camera allows you freedom and flexibility when composing and framing your photographs. The method of loading and unloading your film allows optimal time to think about your next frame. You will not be careless shooting in large format photography. The process forces you to truly choose your subject and scenery with thought and you will find yourself only shooting what speaks to your heart. The control and quality of the camera will allow you to capture such a feat with beauty and finesse.