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Thread: How in the H LL do YOU shoot sharp large format portraits?

  1. #1
    Beverly Hills, California
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    Feb 2000
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    How in the H LL do YOU shoot sharp large format portraits?

    Anyone with ample experience shooting portraits in large format: I recently begi n shooting 4x5 portraits and feel like I've gone back to square one with the bas ic problem of out of focus negatives. I consider myself a decent portraitist in the SLR genres, but I could use some professional advice on how to coordinate ( the taking of) sharp large format portraits. Thanks in advance for your respons e. Andre Noble

  2. #2

    Join Date
    Jul 2000
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    471

    How in the H LL do YOU shoot sharp large format portraits?

    I prefer to see the light during composition so use I continuous lighting. I have a variety of fresnels such as the mole-richardson 4131 that can be lamped at 1000-1500-2000 watts. With a few 750's....650's....down to 250's and you can regulate light intensity down to what ever shutter speed you desire. ( within reason of course). For softer light i just punch a fresnel through a large scrim or umbrella. As far as heat is concerned. I set up my shot long before the subject arrives. I then compose using the photo assistant (if she's there) or just about anything...( have used the vacuum cleaner at times because it was in arms reach....lol ). Once composed, attach a simple string from above the subject and position it to touch the tip of the nose. This can be easily pulled away from the subject shortly before exposer by another string attached to it. Once you're set up and have taken your meter readings and have figured your exposer times the hot lights can be turned off until just before the subject is ready to be photographed. I realize this may not be the easiest way but i love the dramatic effects and sharp crisp shadows the the fresnels produce.

  3. #3

    How in the H LL do YOU shoot sharp large format portraits?

    Andre: Assuming that your equipment is properly set up and the ground glass and film plane are the same, I can offer the following tips from the days when I used to shoot portraits on 5x7 film. First, with the longer lenses, you need to stop down as much as possible as the depth of field is very shallow. That means you needs lots of light. That was the reason the old photographers used 1,000 to 5,000 watt lights. Try focusing on the eyes or the tip of the nose and let the depth of field carry the rest of the focus depth. Set up the portrait and then ask the subject to stay still while you insert the film holder and make the shot. Keep an eye on the subject to make sure the position is not changed. You need to focus carefully with a loupe, and re-focus between shots. With the longer lenses, it is possible to get the eyes in focus and the ears out of focus. That is o.k., but you may get the ears in focus and the eyes and nose out of focus, which ain't so good. My suggestion is to use lot of light close up. If you are shooting electronic flash, move the lights close enough to be able to stop down to f11 or f16. For groups, use the back tilt to keep the rows of people in focus. It really isn't too difficult once you get used to shooting LF portraits. Hope this helps.

  4. #4

    Join Date
    Nov 1998
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    339

    How in the H LL do YOU shoot sharp large format portraits?

    You need a cooperative subject that doesn't wiggle between focusing and actually exposing film, which is _lots_ longer than most people are used to holding very still, and you need to usually shoot around f22 or so.

    Try to get your subject into a comfortable position so they have an easy time holding still. A person who's posing stiffly and trying to hold still will at le ast tend to sway; side to side usually isn't a problem, but front to back moveme nt results in sharp ears or nothing sharp.

    As for the aperture, you need lots of light so you can stop down far enough th at DOF will cover minor movement and/or focus errors; in LF that usually means a round f22, especially if you're using a long lens. Of course if you're using fla sh that taskes sufficient power.

    Practice practice practice.

  5. #5

    How in the H LL do YOU shoot sharp large format portraits?

    I do lots of 8 X 10 portraits, some of kids. Nicholas Nixon is the past master in this area (along with Sally Mann), and he makes the point that you really have to work quickly. Some of the finicky refocusing stuff is actually self-defeating. Once you've got everything in focus, you've got to slap that holder in there quickly. The other tricks I use:

    Seat your subjects, or have them stand holding onto something that will hold them in place. Swaying is much more of a problem with a standing subject than a seated one.

    Don't be afraid to rearrange people so that they are in better focus.

    Don't be afraid to use movements as needed to bring a subject into better focus. Especially helpful with groups. My current camera has asymmetric movements (an Ebony), which makes this much quicker and more practical.

    Take more "environmental" portraits. If you will enlarge to 16 X 20, the person will still be plenty large enough to make out facial details, but it will be much easier to get them entirely in focus, as the reproduction ratio is so much smaller.

    With an 8 X 10, which will wind up as a contact print, a bit of soft focus is probably not a problem, as you won't be enlarging.

    The real challenge, and continued source of amazement to me, is getting everything in focus while _still_ having them look natural, or even, as Sally Mann does, mysterious and feral. This is what I'm aiming for in the long run. Obviously not there yet!!

    Good luck. There's nothing quite like a well-done LF portrait.

    Nathan

  6. #6

    How in the H LL do YOU shoot sharp large format portraits?

    Because DoF is such a problem, you need all the light you can get. that's why studios use flash. That way the subject doesn't get sunburned while their portrait is being taken. And make sure that the subject is in the middle of your DoF zone. Don't focus on the eyes at the expense of the nose or ears. You should get it all with the proper flash power. I've seen photographers use all kinds of props for people to use for stability. James

  7. #7

    Join Date
    Jul 2000
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    How in the H LL do YOU shoot sharp large format portraits?

    Andre, Before you buy into the concept of needing so many different lenses. Remember, many great photographers did landscape and portraits with just one camera and one lens.

  8. #8

    How in the H LL do YOU shoot sharp large format portraits?

    Well Andre...don't underestimate the old "string to the tip of the nose" trick... It's a great way to put your subject back into the proper focal position when you are finally ready to trip the shutter. -

  9. #9

    Join Date
    Aug 1999
    Posts
    108

    How in the H LL do YOU shoot sharp large format portraits?

    I started using a Crown Graphic for exactly this purpose. You can keep a film holder in the back with the dark slide removed and ready to go. Check the focus with the range finder, then frame the image in the sports finder and make the shot.

    The Graphic sports finder is built into the front standard, and moves forward as longer lenses are installed. Essentially this is self- calibrating, and provides a relatively accurate framing of the subject, no matter which lens focal length is used. This doesn't work nearly as well with telephoto design lenses, though.

    You gotta admire the Graphics for this: they are lightning fast shooters when used by somebody who is familiar with them. With a Grafmatic back, they are probably just as fast as shooting an RB-67 for 6 shots in a row. Graphics are also smaller, less expensive, and more available than the 4x5 Gowlandflex TLR cameras.

    Depth of field for 4x5 negs is 6-inches at a subject distance of 5 feet with a 300mm lens at f/22. This is perfect for the nose to ear lobe sharpness zone. In sunlight, this is approximately 1/200th at f/22 with ISO 400 speed film, which is easily hand-holdable. I typically can't shoot much under f/22 using Norman P2000D power packs and umbrellas.

    My problem is I cannot use my 300mm lens on the Crown until I obtain an extended lens board. When I get a lens board extended by 75mm or more, I will be able to use the 300mm on the Crown and keep RF focusing. Currently, I run an Apo Sironar S 210mm on the Crown for portraits, as this is the longest lens I can use and still calibrate my rangefinder. Most of my lenses are mounted on Crown lens boards that fit nicely into a Crown-to-Sinar adapter when they need to be used on the monorail.

  10. #10

    Join Date
    Feb 1999
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    145

    How in the H LL do YOU shoot sharp large format portraits?

    Good firm, real-world #'s Bruce thanks. I've shot a few with my 240mm and some yes, handheld. I've used the string trick and it works fine and I've also replicated a sort of old-timey head-harness from the photodays of yore(your's not mine) by using an old light stand with a dowel or pencil taped to it's top section. I adjust the height and position of the stand so that the sitter's head touches but hides the pencil(and stand). You should coach the sitter in any method you use... it'll help. Personally I find shooting portraits with a view camera(and or rangefinder) so much easier than with a SLR. It's just me but I can no longer stand to see the viewfinder black out.

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