Why Use Large Format Film in Modern Times?

October 04, 2015  •  5 Comments

Why Use Large Format Film in Modern Times? Why would any photographer use large format gear and film when we are living in the digital age?

Why not use large format film?  

I am often asked about why I would go to all the trouble of lugging around "that huge camera" when digital has taken over the world?  My response: really?  I wasn't aware of that takeover... :)

All games aside, large format photography is as relevant today as it was at the turn of the 20th century.  There is a host of reasons that I can think of off the top of my head of why I still use a large format process.

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I will create a list below, in no particular order of why I still prefer large format photography in contemporary times. Make sure you enter your comment at the bottom of the article if you want to add something to the list.

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Reasons Why I Use Continue To Use Large Format In The 21st Century

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  • The slower and contemplative workflow is perfect for my style and approach to photography.
  • I work with intent and I am able to remain engaged and focused for longer periods of time.  
  • For me, large format is photography in its simplest and purest form.  
  • I prefer an approach that keeps me creatively engaged throughout the entire process.  While one could make that argument with a digital-based workflow, I find the traditional hands-on paper, chemicals, films, etc. to suit me better.
  • Film produces an image that simply looks different than one created on a digital sensor.  One of the core reasons I think film resonates with me is because it emanates emotion and it isn't always perfect.
  • For black and white photography, there is no equal to large format in my mind from a creative control perspective or quality.  
  • A lot of what I like to photograph involves high contrast scenes.  Color negative and black and white film handles these types of scenes with ease and in my opinion, produces superior results.
  • Looking at a landscape or subject on the ground glass of a large format camera is a wonderful way to experience the scene and create a photograph.
  • A large format contact print is extremely special in my mind.  They have that special x-factor that I have not been able to duplicate any other way.   
  • The process of pre-visualization using a hand-cut mat board matching my film size is something that I enjoy and connects me to my subjects.  I don't need to carry or use a camera during this phase.  I attribute this to my workflow for large format. 
  • The movements available on large format cameras make the creation of images very easy and with high-quality results not possible on small-format systems.
  • I like the mystery of waiting to develop my films.  This also helps keep me engaged and present in my environment when creating. Some of my biggest mistakes have lead to my biggest breakthroughs.  
  • I enjoy the technical knowledge and skill required to work with large format systems and processes.  After one has mastered the technical aspects, a lifetime of pursuing the artistic aspects is a wonderful journey.
  • The final product possibilities with large format are literally endless.  By final product, I mean darkroom prints, wet plate collodion, salt print, van dykes, albumen, platinum, carbon, palladium, and so on.   
  • I believe my ability to communicate the special nature and aspects of a scene and/or subject is best accomplished with large format photography.
  • I deeply enjoy working in my custom designed and built darkroom creating prints that are made with the raw materials of photography (paper, chemicals, and light).
  • Once you acquire the bits and pieces needed for large format photography, they last a lifetime, and no upgrades are required.
  • The ability to work with one sheet of film at a time is a huge benefit to me technically and also mentally.  It allows me to focus all of my energy into each exposure.
  • Film, large format, and the darkroom will forever hold a special place in my heart.  It is deeply in my soul.  I am not sure how it got there, it just is.  

How about you?  Why do you enjoy using large format in modern times?

Be sure to comment below.

I posted the article on various Facebook groups, Twitter and Linkedin and I have included below some of the reasons that I thought was awesome!

  • Rick Olson - ... and you get to meet all kinds of new friends That are interested in the wonderful craft and share ideas. Great read, Tim!
  • Steve Vodhanel - If nothing else...and I mean nothing else...it's great exercise, great fun, the images are really fun to look at on the large ground glass, and it usually commands that you get off your ass and go somewhere! Nothing wrong with that!
  • Paul Wainwright - when you look at the image on the ground glass it is upside down. This helps me to separate myself from the object in front of the camera. I begin to see it as lines, shapes, forms, texture, positive and negative space, etc. -- all the things they teach in Art 101. And there is no "delete" button (yeah, I guess that's a second addition to the list).

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Comments

Tim Layton Fine Art
Hi Paul, I really love your comments. I will add them to the list!! By the way, I particularly like your Empty Spaces Portfolio, Really outstanding. Thanks for commenting and please stay in touch.
Paul Wainwright(non-registered)
Hi Tim -- I agree with ALL your reasons, as well as those of others who have responded. I add one more for your consideration:

Every photograph is an abstraction of reality. For example, if you point your camera at a tree and make a photograph, what you have at the end of the process (both digital and traditional) is not a tree -- it is your personal interpretation of a tree. It is an image on a piece of paper. Many people confuse this obvious point. If you show them your photograph of a tree and ask them what it is, invariably they will tell you "it's a tree." Then, to prove your point, tear it in half. If it were a real tree you couldn't do that. Which brings me to my point about what I like about using a view camera: when you look at the image on the ground glass it is upside down. This helps me to separate myself from the object in front of the camera. I begin to see it as lines, shapes, forms, texture, positive and negative space etc. -- all the things they teach in Art 101. And there is no "delete" button (yeah, I guess that's a second addition to the list).
Ole Jauch(non-registered)
For me analog and LF photography is mindfulness photography. It's slow and give you time to consider, adjust and get into it before pulling the trigger. And the of course the beauty of black and white made the real way.
Thomas Erichsen(non-registered)
Hey there,

you mostly mentioned aspects that are specific to your personal style and liking, and I want to add some technical:

superior resolution resulting in extreme sharpness and detail, even with cheap lenses

totally different depth of field

totally different visual rendition of image angle, wider image angle with a eg 50 lens without looking wideangle, less perspective shortening


longer exposures in daylight you cannot achieve with nd filters

in-camera shift-tilt

Have fun with your monster! :) having gone digital myself, large format may eventually bring me back to analog, if only we had more space...

Cheers

Thomas
Percy Jones(non-registered)
OK, I'll be the first. "Looking at your scene/subject on the ground glass of a large format camera is a wonderful way to experience the scene and create a photograph."

You hit it on the head Tim, large format makes you slow own, think about what want from the image, decide how you visualize the scene at the moment you fire the shutter. It takes time, patience, suspense, and a bit of intestinal fortitude, but the results of that big negative and subsequent print that "magically" appears in the developer cannot be mimicked, nor is it satisfied, by any means digitally, period.
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