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Thread: Getting "enough light" for LF portraiture

  1. #1
    fishbulb's Avatar
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    Unhappy Getting "enough light" for LF portraiture

    I've been trying my hand at large format portraits and have been struggling to get fast enough shutter speeds to keep subject motion under control.

    My experience is primarily 35mm/DSLR, where it's pretty easy to take portraits in any lighting environment, due to the greater aperture and ISO flexibility.

    Even using Portra 400 or Ilford HP5 400 I am struggling, often ending up at 1/4, 1/8 or 1/15 shutter speeds even when shooting at wider apertures of f/8, f/11 etc. I tried to take a portrait of my friend in "open shade" this weekend, and the exposure was 1/8, f/8, ISO 400.

    It would be helpful to hear some tips or thoughts.

    - Is everyone just using flash, all the time, and that's just how it goes for LF? It seems like most of the LF portrait masters use(d) artificial lighting.

    - Or do I need to limit portrait work without a flash to full sun at noon? Are there any "ideal" conditions for LF portrait work without flash? Bright overcast days? What do you prefer?

    - How do you get natural-looking poses/faces/smiles when you are asking a person to hold perfectly still because of a slow shutter speed?

    - Is a high end speedlight, like a Nikon SB-800 or SB-910 able to add enough light to make a difference? Or do you need a studio strobe and a battery pack?

    - Or do you underexpose film deliberately and then just deal with it in developing or scanning?
    -Adam

  2. #2

    Re: Getting "enough light" for LF portraiture

    1/15 is not bad at all. Most people can hold still that long. Remember there is no mirror vibration.

  3. #3
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    Re: Getting "enough light" for LF portraiture

    I find it always a challenge. On those rare occasions when my brother's family is visiting from out of town, I like to take a group picture. Because of the way schedules work out, this usually ends up being outdoors near dusk, when the light is starting to fade. Using HP5 Plus in 6 1/2 x 8 1/2 or 8x10, I find myself at exposure times of 1/2 second or 1 second at apertures in the range f/11-f/22. I always expose several sheets as fast as I can swap the holders, in the hope that at least one of them will end up without somebody moving. (Though occasionally those exposures can be worth printing too!)

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    Re: Getting "enough light" for LF portraiture

    Don't count on a small speed light to add enough light to reduce your shutter speed significantly. My times are similar to Oren's. I try to keep it from going over one second, and then I tell the subject to listen to the shutter while I fire without removing the dark slide. That gives them an idea on how long they have to remain still. When I see something, I tell them to hold that. And I use more than one film holder too. The subject relaxes after the first two exposures. It's a different way of working than with 35mm. A good way to put your subjects at ease is to be calm and relaxed yourself.

  5. #5
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    Re: Getting "enough light" for LF portraiture

    Quote Originally Posted by chris_4622 View Post
    ...and then I tell the subject to listen to the shutter while I fire without removing the dark slide. That gives them an idea on how long they have to remain still.
    Yes! Before I make the first exposure, I say that we're going to do a practice run, so that they'll know what to expect when the actual exposure is made. Then I release the shutter without pulling the darkslide. Most of the time I'm using a lens in leaf shutter which is pretty quiet, so there won't be anything startling. But sometimes I might be using a Graflex, where the mirror action is quite the earthshaking event, and then it's even more helpful for the subject(s) to know exactly what's coming.

  6. #6
    Peter De Smidt's Avatar
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    Re: Getting "enough light" for LF portraiture

    TMY in Xtol gives me a true exposure index of 500.
    "Why can't we all just get along?" President Dale, Mars Attacks

  7. #7
    jp's Avatar
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    Re: Getting "enough light" for LF portraiture

    Nothing wrong with 1/2s unless your subject is less than three years old. I often shoot LF after sundown with tmy2 film at 1/4 to 1 sec because of the quality of light, not the quantity.

  8. #8

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    Re: Getting "enough light" for LF portraiture

    Window. Window with a white diffuser as main light. White diffusers over the roof/ceiling to diffuse direct sunlight. Light modifiers, as reflectors. 2 or 3 speedlights with radio triggers to use as fill lights - or a strobe => 400W and diffuser. One thing is the amount of light - which you can control with ISO and lens aperture, other ting is light quality, and that's the field where light modifiers play their game.

    With film there is near nothing to play with in post-processing, so take your time and try different light setups until you arrive at couple of usable ones.


    Best,

    Renato

  9. #9

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    Re: Getting "enough light" for LF portraiture

    I pretty much use Ilford FP4+ for portrait work, things can be interesting, but if I can keep the shutter going longer than a second, I’m sweet.

    I too run the shutter through a couple of times, but at a longer time interval. I shot a couple yesterday at a second, but ran the shutter a couple of times at 1 second while telling them that this is what they will have to be still for, time wise.

    After taking my single exposure, the woman suggested I may have made a mistake and maybe we should re-do the picture. She was already attuned to the longer 1 second shutter noise it seems, with the second actual picture taking shutter noise not sounding correct to her.

    I thought this was a pretty cool bit of advice from her. More importantly, it told me that giving the sitter a couple of demonstration shutter runs, works. They both knew exactly what was going to happen.

    One thing I have found to be a bit of a help is when focussing, and as you are focussing, tell them to adopt as relaxed a position as possible that they can hold, without forward or backward swaying, otherwise either your ears or nose will be the only thing in focus. I haven’t found anyone, who wants a portrait of their sharply focused ears or nose!

    Mick.

  10. #10

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    Re: Getting "enough light" for LF portraiture

    A strobe or flash will not help give you a faster shutter speed...You make your exposure based on two things when using flash - flash exposure with aperture and ambient exposure with shutter speed. If you use a strobe and change your settings (from post #1) to like f8, 1/125, iso 400 you will just be killing your ambient light in the exposure so while whatever is illuminated by the flash looks good any of the ambient light might be way underexposed.


    I like shooting on overcast days or in open shade. I often overexpose by 1-1.5 stops and underdevelop by 15-20%. Just make sure to remember about bellows extension when doing portraits

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