The Joy of Shooting Large Format for the First Time

"This should be simple." Those were the famous last words from Thomas Heaton as he set off with his large format camera to shoot with it for the first time. This great video showcases the joys and challenges of tackling the medium.

If you've ever shot medium format before, you know it's essentially like shooting with a full-frame SLR or mirrorless camera, except bigger and clunkier. Large format, however, is an entirely different beast that requires a fundamentally different approach and workflow. You have to slow down significantly, carefully monitor technical parameters, and truly consider each shot, as you'll feel your wallet get a (a lot) lighter each time you do it. So much is that consideration that Thomas Heaton actually chose not to shoot at all the first day when the elements didn't align for him. The next day, however, he takes eight sheets of film (just eight) and gets a shot. I found the entire video compelling because you can really see how he rediscovers some of the joy of photography and the immense satisfaction that comes from shooting large format. I'm going to break out my 4x5 and head out into the woods myself this weekend. 

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Dallas Dahms's picture

I enjoyed that. Thanks Alex. :-)

It reminds me of the first time I shot Velvia slides on my Nikon F5 and got them back from the lab. I was amazed at how lively they looked on a lightbox.

red cat's picture

hmm, expected a holy bokeh of the large format :(

I would get utterly and completely frustrated.

The battery is dead.

Large Format film generally is less expensive to shoot than digital. A decent 4x5 with lens, 6 film holders, light meter and tripod can be had for under $750. A few trays and develop film in the dark in the sink area, hang to dry in the bathtub area. Contact print.
No computer needed. Can all be done without electricity if you really want to do so.
You become much more selective on what you photograph and learn to meter and judge exposure rather than go nuts bracketing and changing composition.
Coming back with three good images one can print rather than 300 to edit down is a good feeling.
Large Format is not for everyone and there are things it does not do well. But, for those who say you can't shoot action - check out all the old sports and news photos from the 1900's done with the old cameras. Boxing especially - few today can even come close to those old Speed Graphic guys with the flashbulbs.
If you like a slower way of working and enjoy the process, why not give it a try? Buying used you can often sell the gear without losing anything at all if you find you don't really like it.

Watching him with the holders in camera. Black side out for unexposed film? Usually it is white side out with the darkslide for unexposed, black after it is hit by light. Then, he doesn't turn the darkslide around after the first exposure - so it means he can't tell which sheet was just exposed. Simple mistakes easily corrected.