Group shot, Berlin LIMITED workshop 2011. Photo: Sean Galbraith
Large format photography has the potential to seriously mess with ones mind. The photographer's mind and that of the audience.
For a photographer it is still the most affordable way to get spectacular resolution. The camera movements allow for compositional freedom beyond anything that ispossible in smaller formats. Due to their simpler and much more symmetrical design, the image quality of the lenses is generally superb. And last but not least, the different workflow and the more thorough approach to each individual photograph generally make for more thought-out pictures.
The audience reaction to large format pictures is often a different one than to 35mm photography. Due to the higher resolution, the pictures will typically have more detail, which oddly enough tends to be true even when downsized to web resolutions. The large size of the medium (4x5" and higher) results in a very different look and depth of field. And the typical lack of falling lines tends to give even very busy pictures an amount of structure and a tidy appearance that is hard to achieve with smaller formats.
My typical reaction to the higher resolutions used to be: "meh". My impression was that at the sizes typically used on the web, it wouldn't make any difference if the picture was shot with a DSLR or if it was taken with a large format camera.
After having immersed myself in large format photography for a while now, I had to change my previous "meh" into a "HOWLY COW" though. The amount of perceived detail even at smaller resolutions tends to be spectacular.
I should have known about the detail thing from the video side of things though. A very similar effect happens when you downsize HD video footage (1920 x 1080) to SD resolution (544 × 480). The amount of perceived detail is just a lot higher than with native SD footage.
Here's my audio engineer's look at it: sound recordings are often made at a much higher bit-depth (24 bits) and higher resolution (96 kHz) than the resulting CD will ever have (16 bits / 44.1 kHz). Why? Higher perceived resolution, even at the final down-sampled stage.
My next step is to print one of these pictures at 25x50" to see the ACTUAL detail. Zooming in to tiny portions of an image to see them at a 100% pixel resolution on your screen just isn't the same.
By the way, here's a little detail from the above shot:
Group Shot (detail), Berlin LIMITED workshop 2011. Photo: Sean Galbraith
What's the largest print you've ever made?