Shooting Large Format Portraits for the First Time

Have you ever wondered about what goes into producing images with a large format film camera? Take a look behind the scenes as photographer Willem Verbeeck tries out large format portraiture for the first time. In the current days of digital everything, it's both interesting and enlightening to see a photographer shooting large format in a film camera. Having never used one of these beautiful beasts myself, I was intrigued by this quick behind-the-scenes video documenting a first time experience with 4x5 large format film. 

Willem Verbeeck walks us through his experience with great results. What I thought would be disastrous portrait lighting (sunlight shining directly through a window, casting all sorts of crazy shadows) turned out to be the perfect mood-setter, and the model, a handsome gentleman with outstanding facial hair, was perfect for the atmosphere. 

Considering that I don't live anywhere near a place where I could rent one of these 4x5 large format cameras to try for myself, I was particularly interested in seeing how the film was loaded and unloaded, how the focus mechanism of the camera worked, and how sharp and crisp the final results were. Another thing that might inhibit someone from renting one of these cameras is the availability of a negative scanner large enough to accommodate the film. 

Do you have experience with shooting large format film cameras? Tell us about your experience and show your results in the comments!

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6 Comments

I've owned a couple of 4x5 field cameras. They are bulky and heavy and exacting, and they don't suit my shooting style; accordingly, in both cases I shot very low volumes, and so I sold them. If I get to the stage I just want to sit in one spot for days, waiting for a single exposure, then I may buy another.

Willem forgot the most important thing about loading film into a film holder and that is to make sure that the sheet is loaded into the holder with the code notches to the right of the holder. If they are on the left you will be shooting through the film base.

Nothing was said about developing the film either, did Willem do it himself or send it out? I do it myself using a Patterson tank and in the past used large tank and a Colenta roller transport processor to do black and white and color.

I like shooting 4x5 but I don't always get the opportunity to do it.

The code notches can be on the left if they are on the upper corner. If they are on the right, it has to be on the bottom corner.

Having owned a lab that had a Colenta roller transport film processor when we acquired the lab, I can confidently assert that there is no better way to imperil your film than to send it through one of those machines. Kreonite was an equal offender in being able to reliably scratch film and randomly jam sheets and rolls with equal abandon.
We switched to a large hanger transport dip and dunk for E-6 and C-41 and a 3.5 gallon handline for B&W.
Hand processing for B&W was a must to accommodate the variable developing times needed for different emulsions.

As for the B&W process today, the contrast control we employed in exposure and developing compensation is less critical now as good scanners can effectively compensate to a large degree.

The results from large format can be stunning, but it comes with much pain. You need lots of light, the very shallow depth of field means shooting at F11+ and this shallow depth of field becomes more of a problem between focusing and inserting the film, your model moves and you mess the shot up. I have a 10x8 system as well and the depth of field get even shallower for the same field of view and even more expensive.. :-)

Add to that the very low shutter speed to get decent results at f16 and one has a recipe for the pictorialist style of soft images. ;)