I am "old school", I do not like grain in portraits. That said, in no way is telling you what you should or should not do. Some members of this list love grain and and at times exploit it to achieve the image they feel is perfect. Grain to me is a necessary evil in some cases in others it can be pretty much avoided by selection of film and developer. I personally try to work with the slowest ASA/ISO I possibly can, when working with available light in a portrait. I also choose a fine grain developer for the film that fits my way of seeing. I do not go into the field hoping to find someone to make an image of. I am more likely to find or stumble on to a particular scene that the lighting etc. might be nice for a portrait. I will then bring my "sitter" into it after planing what film it will take and how I will process the film. then make the exposures needed for what I visualize it to be in the final print. I do very little of what you would call spontanious. For some picture makers that is important but not to me. I would only choose a 3200 speed film for sports, night football or images that were going to be reproduced with 133 or so line screen.( News Paper) Or any image that could not be made with a slower less grainey film. I prefer subject movement slght/blur to grain, it is a personal thing with me. what anyone else does is their business.
For Artificial illumination, I prefer studio strobes. Hot light is very difficult for the "sitter" the brightness can cause squinting eyes, frowns, sweat etc.
I want the person I am photographing to appear in my negative with as much of their personality retained as I possible can. I feel like if a viewers attention is called to notice the lighting technique I have used, the portrait is a failure. It might be a great likeness of the person, but not a successful portrait. I realize that many folks like only one light source and perhaps reflector cards etc. I have no problem with the theory, but in practice the one light is normally used as a flood to bathe the subject in light and is not focused for spectural highlights or proper modeling. May as well use a flash bulb! There are many ways to go, and I don't believe there is any "wrong"
way. Try the high speed and the low speed films decide for your self what you like then go for it. Many of those who have really never acomplished
using low speed film in available light generally champion the high speed stuff.
My comments are based on nearly sixty years of successful Studio Portrait and Commercial photography.
Experience is something I certainly lack but I've made good use of the times I could use someones strobes.
I started with most light on the camera side of the model but images apeared a bit flat most of the time. Most of the light moved to the back of the model wich felt strange but gives so much more dept and live to a picture. It's just like being outside: light from the side or back gives the most lively pictures. With a portrait you would like to see the face most of the time though so fill subtile but enough.
Just place a good friend in a realxing chair play some of his/her favorite music making sure everything is relaxed and experiment. Replace your lights, reflectors defusers, sheets, whatever and look at the results. I haven't read a book on light so far but learned a lot so it's posible without knowledge.... I asume.
best of luck,
Huw, by the way I certainly don't mean to hijack your thread, here, I am interested in all the points raised and for me film speed and lighting are both part of the same equation. This is only my second post and I'm not sure if it's acceptable to answer a thread with another question. I can always start a new thread if that's more acceptable - let me know!
Charles, thanks for your comments. I think a lot of people would agree with you. I should explain that I use grainy film not by default but very much to go with the grain, pushing it to extreme, which I acknowledge would not be to everyone's taste. E.g. with the 3200 (which I actually rarely use) I purposefully shot, and printed and toned in a certain way, so that the image had the feel of a lead or charcoal drawing. I would be interested in other people's experience of 'grainy' film in portraits, whether to make the most of it, or to reduce it. However, I also like the more conventional look. I would be very interested to know which films (and developer) you prefer to use when you're using available light only.
Let me just say here, as I'm new to this forum, that I'm impressed (British understatement). Seriously, the wealth of knowledge here is extremely encouraging, not to say inspiring!
I don't own a flash or any other lighting setup and choose to work purely with natural lighting which is much gentler on babies and little kids. My work is mostly with young children, individuals with great character and couples and of course my favourite the environmental portraits. Again, I choose to use natural lighting. I couldn't imagine trying to photograph someone setup on a box with a backdrop.
I love to catch people in their own environment doing what they normally do and bringing out their personalities. To freeze a moment where someone's sharing a giggle with a friend, a little soul feeling lost or sad, or anything that tugs on my heart strings - these are things I can't shoot 'set up' with artificial lighting. Also the natural light can provide the right mood.
I believe a portrait with rich grain can work very well but not necessarily always. The film type is one of the tools I choose depending on the final result I'm looking for or the subject I'm photographing.
Your approach sounds really interesting - it strikes a chord ('cord'? No, must be 'chord'!)
May I ask which particular films you like to use, - or would that be divulging personal professional info?
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Nicole, do you use reflections screens? I am certainly not at your level of photography but I started using only low sun light. Until I discovered a gentle fill flash can do miracles, even when the mood is really soft.
Charlie and Quinten, I love to work with Neopan, APX and TriX. I use reflectors when necessary (but depends on the environment) and no longer own a flash unit - it didn't fit into my handbag.
Thank you for asking.
I normally use two strobes for portraits. One as a key light and one for the hair. I use a reflector on the other side of the key light to balance. I use black backgrounds a lot, so no light needed for that.
Lately I have started to explore the world of window-lit portraits; often using a diffusing material to soften the light. Great thing, too.
These films can give good results if you you don`t mind grain, infra-red film is another unusual option. Window light and a reflector gives a pleasing lighting effect. An ISO 400 film would probably a good choice.
Originally Posted by CharlieM