Large-format Photography: A Befuddling Guide for the Befuddled
Large-format photography generally refers to film photography which produces negatives on sheet film from 4"x5" up to 20"x24". Alternatively, it can refer to the type of camera used to produce such negatives, either a view camera or a field camera, with the primary difference between the two being that the former is generally used in a studio and the latter tends to be more portable.
A view camera utilizes a fixed focal length lens, focused by means of a moveable bellows, which can bring the lens and film closer together or further apart, in order to produce an image which appears inverted on the ground glass. The front and rear standards can move horizontally, vertically, or tilt forward and backward
A field camera is a portable version of a view camera designed to be more lightweight. Usually it lacks some movements on either the front or rear standard unlike a studio camera and often the bellows is limited in how far it can be extended.
Over the years, there has been a lot written on the subject of large format photography. Some of the most important texts are out of print however many can be still found via retailers. These books range in complexity and presuppose some understanding of film and film photographic techniques, given that they were produced prior to digital photography.
Using the View Camera: A Creative Guide to Large Format Photography by Steve Simmons ISBN: 1626540543
Simmons' book is a pleasant introduction to the view camera and its use. The author draws upon years of experience as the editor of View Camera Magazine to present both the basic functions of the camera and practical methods of shooting.
View Camera Technique, 7th Edition by Leslie Stroebel ISBN: 0240803450
More of a course textbook on view camera photography, the book is encyclopedic in its coverage of the medium with chapters covering all aspects of view camera photography. There are appendices listing both the various cameras available as well as lenses from major manufacturers.
Kodak Book of Large-format Photography edited by James MA. McDonald ISBN: 0879857714
As the premier photographic company in the U.S. for many years, Kodak produced a variety of guides for all forms of photography. This publication on large-format work highlights not only shooting technique but also catalogues a variety of films made by Kodak over the years.
The best way to understand how a large-format image is taken is to watch someone else. This video provides a basic introduction to the medium using a field camera.
The Camera, The Negative, and The Print were a series of books written by Ansel Adams and encompass a history of his photographic journey, and how he arrived at the various methods that inflected his images from both aesthetic and technical points of view, neither of which is inseparable. While this series of books does not focus solely on large-format photography, it was Adams' most common form of shooting and consumes the better part of the text of The Camera and The Negative. The Print is primarily focused on producing works for presentation and its tenets can be applied to almost any negative, regardless of size.
In the wake of digital photography, many of the resources supporting large-format photography and film photography as a whole have become scarcer or else much more community driven in nature. Among the resources still available are mostly back issues of periodicals and thriving online communities.
View Camera Magazine This periodical ran from 1988 until 2013 and was exclusively focused on large-format techniques and aesthetics related to such images. (The link provided requires a Drexel login and covers issues from the years 2005-2013)
The Large Format Photography Forum This is the largest online community of people shooting large format photography on the Internet. Information on the board is broad and broken into subject areas. Users range from complete novices to seasoned professionals. The collective knowledge contained in the board's archives can provide deep and often abstruse answers to questions. There is a section to purchase and sell gear which becomes active for individuals 30 days after joining.
Phototrio This community is much broader in scope and the name actually refers to analog, digital, and hybrid forms of photography. The link provided is specifically for the large format board, but the entire site has a lot of interesting material. The classified ads for equipment on this forum are free to browse.