A hands on guide to what it is like to work with a large format camera to shoot portraits on location.
Large format photography has been my choice for my personal work for the last five years. Partly for aesthetic reasons, and partly to give myself a break from digital photography when I am photographing for fun. That is not to say that I don’t love digital, I do, but using a view camera is very different and gives me a new challenge.
Many people are intimidated by the idea of shooting film and the thought of using a very basic camera. A view camera is a very simple device. There is genuinely nothing complicated about it. It is, in essence, just a very well made box!
A lot of people ask me what is like to shoot large format. The truth is that if you know your basics, and understand the camera’s limitations, large format photography is very simple. There are only three essential controls, aperture, shutter speed and focus. For portraits, the only movements you really need are rise and fall, and these are only to help composition. I shoot with a monorail and tripod weighing close to 6kg, and it is just not practical to compose using the tripod head. It is much easier to set the tripod straight and level and use camera movements to fine tune your composition.
The most difficult thing about large format photography is often the logistics. The simple act of getting a large camera with all its accessories to where you want to take pictures. In an ideal world you would work out of the back of your car, with a couple of assistants, who could help you set up and carry everything if needed. The reality is that I am usually on my own, carrying a lot of heavy equipment. A large format photographer is as much pack horse as he is artist.