Camera Movements for Dummies like Me, Pt.2 by Jason Fung

Jason Fung is back with what will be a Large Format series on the JCH website! The second installment will be Getting both eyes in focus (front swing). You can see the first here. *Note this is a long one. Book mark it or get a coffee and sit down with it. 

Scenario 2: Getting both eyes in focus (front swing)

In this scenario, we are going to explore one method to making portraits with a large format camera. The first problem to deal with is finding a subject who is willing to sit still long enough while I figure out which movements are needed. Everyone in my family quickly found the exit when they saw me taking out the 8×10 camera. As a result, the only subject to not verbally object or leave the room was this teddy bear. The second problem was having the subject’s eyes were completely obscured by its fur. Therefore I added my own. I hope Hallmark won’t mind me adding some googly eyes on this bear so that we have something to focus on today. 


The objective is to get both eyes in focus. The problem is when the subject is not sitting completely parallel to the film plane, one of the eyes will go out of focus. You focus on one eye, the other falls out of focus. You will also see this occur when portrait photographers use really fast lenses like the Canon 85mm F/1.2 or the Leica 50mm F/0.95. You will run the same problem shooting large format at F/9. 

The image size, lens focal length, the aperture and the distance to the subject all have an impact on the depth of field, which is extremely small. I’m shooting with a 8×10 Intrepid camera with a 4×5 back and Lomograflox back. I’m using a 300mm lens that Bellamy found for me when I got into this rabbit hole. I’ll be shooting wide open at F/8.5. I rated the Fuji Instaxwide at ISO 800, and metered the light at F/8.5 at 1/60th of a second. Understand that, the depth of field would be even smaller and more dramatic if it were shot on 8×10 and I could move the camera closer. I had enough space on the bellows to make that happen. 

Hardest Part

The hardest part for me to understand was how the three planes should be visualized. From the back to the front… … First is the rear standard which is where the film sits, and you look at the ground glass. Second is the front standard which is where you put your lens. Finally is the subject’s plane. For most cameras, the rear standard will always be parallel with the front standard. This is how we got strong metal camera bodies and sturdy lens mounts. It makes them simple and reliable. With a large format camera, the rear and front standard’s can be moved independently. A similar effect can be achieved by using a tilt-shift lens where the rear standard is fixed, and the front standard has a bit of movement. 

For the third plane, imagine a plane that intersects the two eyes on the bear. In an ideal situation, every plane will be parallel and everything will be in focus. That would make things easy, and remove the need for the front swing. However, we have made the creative decision to have the bear sit at an angle, so the eyes cannot sit parallel to the rear standard. Plus it would be really creatively boring if everyone just sat straight towards the camera. At some point, the rear standard and plane with the bear’s googly eyes will intersect. 

The Approach

After we understand how these three planes are visualized, we can begin to approach how to get the eyes in focus. The front standard (the one with the lens – the green line) will need to be rotated such that it will meet both the rear standard and the plane with the eyes. To do this, we get under the ground glass. I begin by focusing on the eye that is closest, then I move the loupe over to the eye that has fallen out of focus. I “swing” the front standard so that it moves a little bit until the eye in the back falls in focus. Rinse and repeat. I go back to the eye that is closer, focus normally until the eye that is closer falls into focus.

After that, I swing the front standard again to get the rear eye in focus. So far, I only repeated this once, but it will often take a few tries until both eyes are in focus. Every time I swing the front standard, I am getting a little bit closer to getting everything in focus. Swinging like this often takes me 3 to 5 attempts before I’m happily convinced both eyes are in focus. 

Note that in the diagram I drew with the best of my artist skills (It is one of the reasons I prefer photography over painting or drawing) is a top view. I don’t fully understand the mathematics behind this, but I imagine that the green line intersects the blue line and the purple line somewhere if those lines were to continue beyond the piece of paper I drew this on.

The top view of the diagram is considered “front swing”. However, as a thought experiment, consider this a side view.  The eyes are now two focus points where one is further away, like mountains, and the other is closer like boats. Now it is beginning to look like Scenario 1. It is; except it is no longer called swing, but front-tilt.

This picture shows how much I ended up swinging the front standard. When everything is in a neutral position, the front standard is parallel to the rear standard. The frame holding the front standard would be flush with the wooden plywood – the bed of the camera. However, because of the front swing I used to get the eyes in focus, it created a triangle in the plywood.

This is why the only volunteer who did not object was this teddy bear. Once both eyes are in focus, don’t lose your focus. On more than one occasion, I got so excited that everything is finally in focus that I forgot to close the preview lever. (It has happened to every large format photographer I know. It is practically a right of passage.) Test the shutter a few extra times to make sure everything works, locked down, and that the shutter is closed. Then you are free to load the film and make your image.  

Before – F/8.5 – Focused on the nearest eye (no swing movements)

After – F/8.5 – Focused on the nearest eye with swing movements.


In the epilogue, I have two caveats.

Front swing is not just for portraits. This can also be applied to any subject’s surface. It is up to you to define the plane of focus for your subject. This can just as easily be applied to a building or piece of furniture. Imagine a photographer who makes images of cereal boxes. They’ve got to make sure that the font on the cereal boxes is all in focus so everyone will know that the cereal they are photographing is  “grrrrrreat!” They can accomplish this with the front swing. 

A second note is that this is not the only way to get this done. Another method is to move the rear standard in such a way that the rear standard is completely parallel to the front standard. That would be a different article. One that I’m not likely to attempt anytime soon because I haven’t found a need to understand it yet. The image can get a little wonky and incomprehensible to me when the rear standard is parallel to the subject but the lens is contorted into an awkward angle.


You can see Jason’s Twitter here and his website here as he will build a collection of Large Format articles on JCH.

– JF