Minimalist Large Format Photography Guide

November 21, 2018  •  Leave a Comment

Tim Layton With 8x10 Large Format CameraTim Layton With 8x10 Large Format Camera I get a lot of questions from analog photographers from around the world and one that I have been getting a lot lately is around getting started in large format photography

All of these questions got me thinking more deeply about providing some practical advice for those that want to explore large format photography on a budget and keep it simple and fun.  

Large format can be intimidating if you have never done it before, but I can assure you that it is photography at its most basic level.  In fact, it is the simplicity of it that I really love and appreciate so much.  There are no high-tech gadgets to deal with, no screens to look at, and no distractions.  Just a very simple camera that produces amazing high-quality images.

After first publishing this article that was aimed at helping photographers get started with large format photography, I realized this information could also apply to very experienced large format photographers that want to simplify and invest the majority of their energy in areas other than photo gear. 

Here are my thoughts about different approaches to getting started in large format photography based on your style. 

B&W LARGE FORMAT MINIMALIST SETUP

I think black and white large format is probably the easiest and also most hands-on option in my opinion.  It can be very simple or fairly involved, but I am going to outline an approach to help you explore black and white large format photography with the fewest items required.  

  • Any 4x5 camera of your choice.  4x5 is the most popular format, and also the most economical as well. 
  • A standard lens (150mm range).  You can also do closeup and macro photography with a standard lens too. 
  • One film holder
  • A cable release
  • Tripod
  • A pair of 3X reading glasses (much cheaper than a loupe)
  • An old white t-shirt is sewn inside of an old dark-colored sweatshirt or hoodie to use as a dark cloth.
  • A box of 8x10 RC glossy B&W paper to be used as your negative and your print.  You can cut a single sheet of 8x10 paper into 4 negatives making this approach very cost-friendly. I have an entire video workshop dedicated to paper negatives that you can check out. 
  • No meter required (use sunny 16 rule)
  • DIY contact printing setup made from basic art and hardware store supplies.  
  • Variable contrast printing filters to allow split-grade printing.
  • 4 Development trays (dev, stop, fix, wash)  
  • Dektol paper developer (I dilute to 1:3 for printing and 1:6 or 1:9 for negative development by inspection)
  • Normal B&W print processing chemicals (stop bath, fixer).  You can mix your own from scratch using my free Darkroom Recipes.  

This setup is about as simple as it gets.  By using paper as your negative and your final print, you eliminate the need for expensive film and developers and you get the benefit of making analog prints by hand using very basic lighting.  If you already own a scanner, then you could also scan the paper negatives, just like film.

I have a comprehensive set of video workshops on large format that can walk you through everything you need to become a confident and productive large format photographer. 

COLOR LARGE FORMAT MINIMALIST SETUP

If you want to work with color instead of black and white, I have some suggestions that will help.  

  • Any 4x5 camera of your choice.  4x5 is the most popular format, and also the most economical as well. 
  • A standard lens (150mm range).  You can also do closeup and macro photography with a standard lens too. 
  • One film holder
  • A cable release
  • Tripod
  • A pair of 3X reading glasses (much cheaper than a loupe)
  • An old white t-shirt is sewn inside of an old dark-colored sweatshirt or hoodie to use as a dark cloth.
  • Handheld meter or another camera with a meter.  Slide film is less forgiving than other film types for exposure. 
  • Color slide film such as Provia 100F

This setup is simple, but it will require you to either send your film off for development or get a rotary processor with temperature control to develop your film.  I don't recommend developing slide film when you are just starting out because it is expensive to get the equipment and adds a lot of unneeded complexity.  It is easier to just have your films developed by a lab and see if you want to pursue this path more seriously.  The beauty of this approach is the film is your final product.  You can lay your large format slides on a light table or hold them up to window light and enjoy them.  Lay your large format slides on a light box and snap a photo with your phone to share with your family and friends.  If you happen to own a scanner, you could scan your film too. 

SUMMARY

There are no right or wrong approaches, just the one that you are exploring at this time.  Have fun with it and decide if you want to go deeper.  I personally think the B&W path is a great place to start and the skills that you master with this approach serve you well in anything else you want to do in large format. 

Let me know if I missed anything or if you want to add something to the list. 

-Tim Layton

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Video Workshops For Analog Photographers

Tim Layton Fine Art All Access Pass B&W Darkroom Photography Video WorkshopB&W Darkroom Photography Video Workshop Large Format Photography Video Workshop SeriesLarge Format Photography Video Workshop Series B&W Large Format Floral Still Life Video WorkshopB&W Large Format Floral Still Life Video Workshop Large Format B&W Film Testing Video WorkshopLarge Format B&W Film Testing Video Workshop Large Format Paper Negative Video WorkshopLarge Format Paper Negative Video Workshop DIY UV Printer Design & Build Video WorkshopDIY UV Printer Design & Build Video Workshop Platinum & Palladium Printmaking with Vellum Video WorkshopPlatinum & Palladium Printmaking with Vellum Video Workshop

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