Need help with portraits
Hi, I'm starting a project that invovles portraits of mostly middle aged people. I'm planning on square format, 3/4 view with some enviroment/background. Available light supported by a reflecter and possibly a 500 watt flood. B&W. I'm using a Yashica A and a Bronica SQa w/80mm lens. The question is how best to make them look good. Show the character, not the spots and such. I'm using 400 film (Arista), Fomadon R09 (new), and standard developement. I'm not adverse to new equipement (I love to buy things), but I refuse to get a new lens for the Yashica!
we're all showing our age!:o
Whatever you do, diffuse that light! Get a translucent diffuser (Wescott makes some nice portable ones, as does Photoflex) that you can use between the light source and the subject. The translucent diffusers will also work with natural light as well as your photo flood.
Speaking as a middle aged people,
just shoot. Find a friend, and start learning by shooting.
Have no preconceived notions.
Most essential, ignore ANY 'portrait lighting' guideline you ever see.
Use your eyes: you have to change yourself to do this project.
The photography is easy.
The only hint will be to expose generously and develop gently.
Be amazed by what you discover.
I agree about diffusion. Do whatever you can to get a nice, soft light that still gives some shadows. A north-facing bank of windows is always nice. Your 500 watts might be a little weak after you diffuse it. I use a 900 watt soft box very close to my subjects and it's barely enough for 400 film.
I use a Bronica SQ-a as well. I would recommend going for the 150 or 250 lens, which you can pick up for around $100 at KEH.com
You might consider a very light green filter, which evens out skin tones a little.
Thanks for the ideas. I just had pics of a good friend come out in a non flattering way. I hadn't thought that part through. My pieces of fruit always look their best!
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Another quick, somewhat philosophical point. In my opinion, the goal of shooting a portrait is to make the subject look their best, to make a photo that *they* will feel accurately represents them. To this end, I've found it a good idea to tell people a few days in advance that you are going to come shoot. What happens is they make sure to wear clothes they like and they will do whatever they like to do with their hair. I find I like the portraits where I warn people a few days in advance over the ones where I just drag people under the lights.
This is a different type of photography than documentary photography, of course, where you are trying to capture the person as they really are, as opposed to how they present themselves. In this approach, you want to catch them in their regular clothes, doing what they are usually doing.
You can also blend these two approaches. The German photographer August Sander is a good example.
Good luck and have fun!
You can't get a new lens for the Yashica A - it's lens is not interchangeable.
I would stick with window light and a reflector - only use the flood if you have no choice about working after dark, and even then, point it at a wall so that you have a broad, soft light source.
Expose the film at about half the rated film speed. Use whatever developer, time and temperature you are accustomed to, but test the combination first before you start doing serious work, and once you are satisfied, don't change anything.
Engage the subjects in conversation. The Yashica A is excellent for this kind of work because it is so very quiet, but it does tend to be a bit 'fiddley". I suggest putting it on a tripod so that you can frame and focus, and then not have to manipulate the camera as you interact with the subject. Shoot a full roll of film on each subject. Use a cable release (you will need a 'nipple' to attach a cable release to a Yashica A - most older camera stores will know what you are asking for)
While warming filters can help manage skin blemishes, I would avoid filters for this project. You don't want to lose any film speed (the minimum shutter speed on the Yashica A is 1/8 sec which is kinda slow for this kind of work).
As someone who did weddings and portraits semi-pro some years ago, I always think that a portrait is more about showing the sitter as they really are. The mechanics of setting up the photograph is, in my opinion, the least of your concerns. Making the sitter relaxed in front of the camera is the really tricky bit. If you can achieve that, you're 90% of the way there.
If you can get your hands on a polaroid back for the SQ-A and show the sitter a couple of test images I found the sitter will feel part of the process and work with you.
Relax and enjoy it. Experiment and don't be afraid to show folks 'warts and all'. Some of us wear our wrinkles with pride!
Paul Jenkin (a late developer...)
IMHO, file the "see 'em as they REALLY are, warts and all" away for future reference.
As noted, use diffused light, if possible. And who ever wrote "expose generously and develop gently" gave good advice in my experience. For such work, do not use Rodinal. Use a "mushier" developer like straight D76.
And old trick to make any person a glamor queen (or king) was to rate Tri-X at EI 64 and underdevelop in straight Microdol.
Be sure to focus on the catch light in the eye unless you are trying to emphasize something else--like a hobby item or a tool. Use a temporary focus light, if necessary, to generate a catch light in the eye.
John, Mount Vernon, Virginia USA