Large format portraits with shallow focus
One thing I have not done much of with the 4x5 is precision portraiture. But I am now thinking of doing a set of portraits of my numerous older siblings. One of the looks I want to experiment with is the very shallow depth of field, with super-sharp eyes but quite fast fall-off of focus through the nose and ears. My concern with this is keeping the focus spot-on while closing the shutter, putting in the film holder, pulling the dark slide, and making the exposure. Apart from simply asking my sitters to keep very still, and working on my speed, are there any cunning tricks I haven't thought of? (A related issue is getting the shallow focus right in a 4x5 self-portrait with air bulb release...)
One approach would be to have the sitter sit with the back of their head against a wall, although that may pose problems with unwanted shadows.
Grateful for your thoughts!
You can try the "string" trick, where you literally hold a piece of string between the sitter and the lens, figure out its precise length for the focus. Then, when you have the dark slide out, you can check the distance between the lens and the sitter to be sure they are at the plane where you have the focus with the proper length of string.
you can also have you sitter close their eyes and "relax"
after you focus on them.
it will allow them to recompose themselves as you tell them to
look at the camera ..
i have done a bit of wide open portraits like this, and it works best
after you decide on a pose, and when dof is barely there.
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If you are developing and enlarging these your self you could try to do it with the enlarger. Focus as sharp as you want the eyes and while exposing the paper do the eyes as required then dodge them and gently bump the enlarger. I have seen this done with other subjects. Looked pretty good.
Leslie D. Wall
How close are you trying to get, filling the frame with just a head or more pulled back? I have shot a number of portraits pretty close, and i find that in terms of the focus, weather you are wide open or super closed down that you still have to be precise with the focus. Sure the additional DOF from shooting at say f22 compared to f5.6 will make parts of the face that you didn't focus on (everything but the eyes) closer to being in focus, but I could always see distinctly what was actually in focus. One thing that I found out very quick was to make sure the tripod I was using was very sturdy, this has a huge effect when working close up (with a flimsy tripod its easy to move the camera when you are adjusting the lens/shutter and putting in the film holder). Also try to re-focus as often as you, I usually try to not shoot more than 3 frames with out opening up and checking focus. Hope this helps.
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The string trick is very reliable. I put a knot in the string, focus while the subject is holding the string taut to their nose, and then I can use the string to check focus after inserting the film, removing the darkslide, and cocking the shutter. The other end of the string is tied to a fixed point on the tripod. You can shoot 8x10" and larger at a wide aperture, and just about every frame will be dead on.
Thanks for the ideas everyone. Much appreciated.
Ben, I am planning to get in quite close so it will be pretty easy to cock the focus up.
Suzanne and David, I particularly like the string idea - such an obviously sensible solution that hadn't occurred to me! I will see how I get on. If all else fails, I guess I can always move back down to MF for this project...
not to sound clich'e but you might want to practise on some still life shots first, flowers or something to help have a system down before you start on people
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In high school days, the commercial photographer had a wooden fixed focus camera and a chain that he pulled out to each person's nose just before the exposure. That was early / mid 1970's in northern Ontario. If I recall, he wound the film on, implying, to me, 120 or 220.
You might want to look at some depth of field calculations - [for example] a 135mm lens at f/4.5 has a very shallow D.O.F., especially in close. You may find what you want at f/8. [I'm no expert in 4x5, so do your own thing.]
Seems like if you had an SLR or view camera with a fast lens, you could set it up next to the 'real' camera and peep it to make sure the subject hasn't moved.
I don't quite understand the attraction of the razor-thin DOF done on purpose. I understand the appeal of isolating your subject, but to me, the subject is the person, and to me it seems basic taste that the person or at least their face should be in focus.