Portrait with LF
I am interested how (technique) and what (tools) you use to make good portraits with LF 4x5, 8x10 and larger. How do you control the focus in studio or outside on travel or in your backyard. What is the best approach if you do portrait of people you meet at their environment. Don't people tend to move when you put the film holder in place and pull the dark slide? I am planning to do a trip with 8x10 and hopefully make some good portraits. I would love to hear your story what you end up with. Thanks for reading.
Ask the subject(s) to not move. Otherwise, use smaller f-stops, faster shutter speeds. Avoid long focal length lenses. Not easy without electronic flash.
Groups are even more difficult, especially if they're having drinks - they tend to joke around, laughing, etc. - you must convey the need for being serious for those moments. You need their full attention.
Looking at the couple hundred or so negs I made with my 8x10 in the last 18 months, the best ones were made with a 240 (a little on the wide side), from a distance that yielded a waist-up shot. I usually shot at around f16 at 1/8th or 1/15th on fast (250 to 400 EI) film, and didn't have issues with focus or movement. Times when I used my 360, I had more focus issues.
My best advice is to start and stick with one camera, one lens, one film, one developer, and work on the connection with the subject and the light. I wasted so much time jumping around with lenses, films, and the rest, when it's really all about subject and light.
All that being said, for my own work, I discovered that while I do get a certain appealing "look" with 8x10 and I enjoy having those big negs to make Palladium prints with, I ultimately do better portraiture (connection with the subject, composition, handling the light) with smaller formats. I will probably sell all my 8x10 gear in the coming months for this reason. And, in my experience, it took the best part of a year to get really comfortable with all aspects of the process and to stop making stupid mistakes. Practice made perfect, and also made for a lot of wasted film and missed opportunities.
For one project, you might consider trying to borrow a camera and lens, or maybe rent one, rather than investing money (and lots of time) assembling a kit of your own. See if you like it before a big investment?
Tie a piece of string to the tripod that you can stretch out to the subject and use as a last second focus check. For instance, have them (or a stand in) hold the end of the string to their cheek while you set critical focus, and then when the darkslide is pulled, and everything is ready to go, stretch the string out again to get them at the perfect distance. This saves them having to try to hold still for a long period of time. Most people who aren't models, or who aren't used to the focus issues LF'rs deal with have a limited concept of what "don't move" means, in our context. When they move, it is almost always front to back as they relax, get bored, get interested, or begin to "get ready" even though they think they are "holding still".
The string trick is very reliable. I usually use it with 8x10" and larger.
For 4x5", I usually use my Technika, so I can check focus with the rangefinder.
Originally Posted by JBrunner
The trick is as-old-as-the-hills, I can remember a photographer using that method back in the 1st grade - more than 50 years ago - I think he was using an exrta long shutter release cable, it had a button on the end.
You might enjoy a walk through my web pages. Maybe I'm luckier that most but I go for the extreme shallow depth of a wide open portrait lens. Many times I cannot get the end of the nose and the eyes focused at the same time because the plane is so shallow. I've found that 95 times out of a hundred, when I say "now don't move" my subject stays where I put them. Most people realize that an 8X10 with an 1860's brass lens is going to work differently than a Leica. In fact most folks are surprised that the exposure is only going to be 1/4 or 1/2 second.
Besides the string trick, one thing I learned from my wife as a teacher: to get kids compliant, sometimes, they have too much energy and they can't sit still. Make sure they get some energy out when you want them to focus on you and not on other things.
So, ask your subjects to take a little walk before taking a sitting for you. :)
i usually focus on their eyes, and while i am fumbling behind the camera i have them close their eyes
and relax ... when i am ready, sometimes i ask them to open their eyes, and eventually take the photograph.
if i am on location, i am often times a fly on the wall, and i use a fill flash with the lens stopped down to a bit ...
or i do the same technique as i mentioned first ... i like using a graflex slr to make portraits as well,
like a slr 35mm you can see what is going on the instant before the shutter is tripped.
Thanks, I do have a SinarP2 8x10 and a 360mm lens. I was actually thinking of that combination för shallow focus depth. I love the look of portraits taken with rather big lenses, but I guess that will be a hard one. I have used 4x5 for a long time so I been using the same materials for the past 15 years, so no worries there :). I never done any serious portraits thats why I am asking. I did see a LF photographer using the string for a group picture with students standing on steps. He organized them into one row and used the string to touch each student on the shoulder so that everyone had the same distance to the camera. I like the string idea but last time I did it I messed up and focus was behind in the background :( I guess I have to practice how to say "Don't move" "Hold still" in different languages... how do you say that for example in Hindi, Arabic? :)