Is large format photography worth trying out? The answer is yes.
With all the ways you can take a picture (from camera type to format), photography never really changes — you always want to capture people and places in appealing light. However you prefer to shoot, as a photographer its important to challenge yourself with new techniques and tools. With film cameras becoming more and more accessible to photographers, getting your hands on a large format film camera is no longer out of reach. We took an Intrepid 4×5 Mk 3 out for a test shoot to if it was actually worth lugging this big camera around for a handful of shots.
Here’s what happened.
How to Load Large Format Film
Like any camera, a large format can be easy to use — it just takes practice to understand what you’re doing. The idea behind this camera is the same as any other: light passes through the lens and hits the film, creating your image.
So, to start at the beginning, you’ll want to buy film. For this video, we used Kodak Ektar 100 for the color shots and Ilford HP5 400 for the black-and-white photos. You’ll also need to buy some film holders, which you can purchase on eBay, B&H, or Amazon.
Each film holder has two slots for the film. You’ll need to load the film into the holders either in a film tent, or a dark room. Inside the holders, there are two dark slides, this protects the film from light once you load it into the camera. Once you have the film loaded into the film holders, they are ready for action out in the field.
Understanding the Camera Body
The body of a large format camera consists of a front and rear standard. These are basically the front and back plates you’ll be working with. The front standard is where you’ll put the lens board with your lens attached. (A lens board is just a plate to which your lens is affixed.) Different cameras require different sizes and types of lens boards, so make sure you figure out which type works best for your body.
On the rear standard, you’ll load the film holder once you’ve framed your shot (we’ll get to framing and exposing). The ground glass on the back of the camera is what you’ll look through to see what your shot composition and focus look like.
The two standards are also how you determine the photo’s focus. To catch focus, tilt the front standard back and forth — as well as the rear standard for whatever look you’re trying to get. Your camera should have knobs and sliders on the side that allow you to reposition and move the standards however you want.
Exposing the Shot
All of your exposure settings with a large format camera are right on the lens — you’ll use it to set the aperture and shutter speed. Now how you choose to expose is up to you; everything you know about photography still applies to this process. However, composition and precision become very important with this format because you’re taking fewer shots — and each shot costs more than your standard roll of film. (Given the size and weight of the large format body, you’ll most likely be lugging a tripod around as well.)
Every picture matters. So, once you’ve set your exposure, open up the lens. Remember not to load the film yet because it’s time to look through the ground glass. The image will be upside down, and you’ll probably be surprised that the image doesn’t look the way you thought it would. Just adjust and move as much as necessary. These photos take a long time and require a lot of patience.
Taking the Shot
Once, you’ve set your exposure and composed the perfect shot, it’s time to load the film. But, make sure the lens is closed; you don’t want to accidentally expose the film. Sometimes its best to close the shutter and take a “test shot” without loading any film.
Now, load the film into the back on the rear standard. Once you’re ready, remove the dark slide on the side of the film holder closest to the front standard. The film is now set and ready to go. If you’re waiting on light to pass through some trees, leaves to fall, or people to walk through the frame, take all the time you need. When you’re ready, take the shot.
Now you’ll want to put the dark slide back into the holder. Remove the holder from the rear standard, then place the holder somewhere dark and safe. That negative is ready for developing!
Interested in the tracks and clips we used to make this video?
- “Ocean Tranquility” by Cymatix
- “Soothing” by Cymatix
- “Nordic Sunrise” by Mattijs Muller
- “Autumn Groove” by Cymatix
- “Swanee” by Harpo Marks
- “Life in Phase” by Tonemassif
For more on film, digital, and all things photo, check out these links: