View Full Version : Portraiture with 8x10

Joel Brown
4-Nov-2005, 11:54
I suggest to my models that it may take me up to 2 minutes before I can make an exposure after I find the pose I want to capture. Am I taking an unusually long time in my process? This would be outdoors, not in the studio, with the camera at least pointing in the right direction to begin with. I'm shooting with a 8x10 Deardorff. Maybe other 8x10 cameras are faster?

John Kasaian
4-Nov-2005, 12:10

I don't think two minutes is very long in 8x10 time.---especially if any movements are used.

A handheld 4x5 Speed Graphic would certainly be faster to use at the expense of the bigger negative, but whats the rush?

More important, IMHO, are you and your model satisfied with your results? If so, you might keep doing whatever it is you're doing.


Frank Petronio
4-Nov-2005, 12:14
Depends on the pose I think. If they can relax their bodies while holding position, then why not? But also, you should probably get faster because many people are skittish. Do your composition and have them "semi" relax, then get all set to shoot, check the most important focus point (eyes usually) and close/stop down the lens, pop the holder and hurry up!

A bail on the camera back, and a modern shutter with easier to see f/stops - and maybe a headlamp or flashlight so you can see the f/stop markings - all will help.

The old trick of using a measured strong to the subject's nose is also good.

Finally, try photographing a real actor or model - they are so much easier than civilians. Gives you some perspective.

Frank Petronio
4-Nov-2005, 12:28
string not strong

David A. Goldfarb
4-Nov-2005, 13:15
The string to the nose is really useful if you like very short DOF.

If the DOF is thin, but not razor thin, pay close attention to the nose shadow. If the subject isn't moving around too dramatically, I find that if I observe the nose shadow when focusing, then adjust the subject's head so the nose shadow is exactly the same, the eyes should be in focus.

Henry Ambrose
4-Nov-2005, 13:28
I don't know if faster is better. It might be fine that it takes some time to get ready. What if everyone just relaxed?

Scott Davis
4-Nov-2005, 13:45
Your times for 8x10 sound very reasonable. I think I average about 5 mins per 4x5 shot (16 sheets per hour, give or take) when shooting the human figure in the landscape. Models who can't sit still once you tell them "Hold that pose" for the 30 seconds-1 minute it takes to close the shutter, cock the shutter, insert the film back, and withdraw the darkslide drive me nuts. I've even had pro or semi-pro models do it - they're used to working with motor-drive, auto-focus, 35mm or digital blasters who want them to keep moving all the time. I have a couple of models I work with regularly who can and do sit still long enough for 8x10 work.

Jay DeFehr
4-Nov-2005, 14:22
Hi Joel.

8x10 is not a rapid format, and if cycle time is important, I would choose a different one. That being said, I shoot a lot of young people and children, most of whom cannot be counted on to remain motionless, or even relatively so, for a minute or more, so I've learned to work faster when I want an 8x10 negative of these subjects. There is simply no substutute for practice, and when your motions become second nature, and your need to double and triple check your actions fades, your cycle time will improve. In the meantime, finding the right model will be crucial to your success rate. Good luck.


Ralph Barker
4-Nov-2005, 16:18
I'll take a slightly different tack and say, yes, 2 minutes is too long to expect anyone but an art model to hold a pose. Either they will move, or the expression will change in a negative way. By adjusting technique and procedure, you should be able to get that down to 15-20 seconds for the mechanics and a few seconds more for regenerating the desired expression. Doing so takes practice, however.

For example, I try to get things essentially set - basic pose, basic focus, basic composition, loaded holder resting on top of the camera, etc. That way, when the magic moment (pose details and expression) arrives, I'm pretty close to being ready. In contrast to the ratta-tat-tat shooting style with smaller formats, however, I try to pre-plan poses and expressions when doing 8x10, discussing with the model what I'm after. That shifts the nature of the session into something more consistent with the requirements of the format.

4-Nov-2005, 16:36
2 minutes is along time. I compose through the gg, then start slamming in the holders. I know what my dof is and work within it. Waiting too long, the models lose their liveliness. The pictures start to look posed. I waste some film, but get some real special ones.

Frank Petronio
4-Nov-2005, 17:45
Wonder how Nicholas Nixon shoots indoors, casual expressions, with an 8x10? Is it quantity, posing, or something magic?

Craig Wactor
4-Nov-2005, 19:01
I've always wondered how Sally Mann got those great unposed looking shots of her kids on 8x10. I think practice can get you really fast. Good equipment you are comfortable with helps too.

4-Nov-2005, 19:15
As most will agree, portraiture can be a very challenging endeavor. I find after years into it I know what Stieglitz meant by " the interview is as important as the photograph". But that is a whole other post. I shoot full length platinum portriats In 8x20 format. My best advice would be what I learned as a theatrical minor in college , and that is to... work to.. and hit your spots. It is as simple as putting a small piece of masking tape on the floor to bring your model into the exact ( or very close to where you compose) spot to snap that shutter. A little trick is to compose and then notice your subject in relation to your background and that will help you keep the model in the frame you desire. 8x20 can be a very narrow format in which to work so keeping your subject relaxed and ready to shoot is of the upmost importance. Mark the spot and see your composition without directly seeing the image on the ground glass. You've already done that two or three times during preshot. Take a small break with your model and load the film holder, set the shutter, pull the dark slide, then put her back on her spot and compose again. . Then.......Shoot. The trick is to hit the spot and the can be done within a 30th of a second.

Brad Keith
5-Nov-2005, 09:06
I don't know if this approach will work for others. But I like to shoot large format also, and I love doing portraiture. What I do is get the basic composition on the ground glass while chatting with the subject about this and that. Once I have everything the way I like, I lock the camera down into position so it won't move. I use a Linhoff on a Gitzo, so it locks down pretty solid. Then I load the film holder, close and cock the shutter. As soon as I finish these mundane little chores, I pull the dark slide and say "Ready". Then I chat for a couple of more seconds about this and that and when I see something in their face I like, I click the shutter.

Frank Petronio
5-Nov-2005, 09:23

You can't do this without being more rigourous with the focusing, and even then it is a matter of luck...

5-Nov-2005, 11:55
re: frankpetronio.com/archive/patriot_logger.html (http://frankpetronio.com/archive/patriot_logger.html )

That's a great picture to make a life-size or larger print. It is haunting, in a good way.

5-Nov-2005, 12:13
When working with say and old verito at f4 it can be somewhat of a crap shoot with limited depth of field. That's why often you may need something to steady your model. A table, chair back , desk, ect...ect. I've even seen some old studios with back rests sticking right out of the wall. But like I said a spot on the floor and a string hung from a boom to place at the tip of the nose can be swung out of the way in a sec before exposure. I also use old mole richardson fresnels that provide enough light to keep exposer times down even at the smaller apertures. When you're working with f16- f32 you have a better chance of keeping in the sharp focus range.But shoot everything twice just in case of movement. Working with professional models sure helps in reducing the margin of error. But in portraiture that's not the real world. It can be very challenging and fun. Good luck

5-Nov-2005, 13:25
"Wonder how Nicholas Nixon shoots indoors, casual expressions, with an 8x10? Is it quantity, posing, or something magic?"

a bit of everything i think?

he shoots A LOT

but is if you look at his porch picures, it looks like he poses them and then just fires away

Frank Petronio
5-Nov-2005, 14:56

When I did this series of 45 doctors for the local teaching hospitial I chose shoot 4x5 with a 300mm Sironar at f/16.5, making four exposures of each. These were very traditonal, formal portraits, slightly more than head and shoulders, with a medium Chimera with a grid, plus two lights on the background and fill card. But then I only took five minutes with each person (they are all important and busy -scheduling was the hardest part). I shot at F/16.5 because I wanted to have a safe margin of DOF for the people that might be shifting around. I was very controlling - telling them exactly what to do. I also had an assistant to smooth out wrinkles and watch the shot for me.

I don't really care for the shots as anything more than good commercial work. In hindsight I could have done the same thing with a 150mm lens on Hasselblad, which is pretty much standard practice (or an 85mm on a DSLR).

In other words, if you're going to shoot stopped down and all in focus, and you aren't printing 8 feet tall like Avedon, it gets hard to justify using large format for portraits. To really get the most out of LF portraiture I think you should be shooting more wide open, with shallow DOF. Otherwise, what's the difference? Other than the novelty?

I've tried Aero Ektars (f/2.5) and others, I haven't tried a Graflex SLR yet. I just got a book by fashion photographer Arthur Elgort which has many great Graflex and 4x5 Technika shots, along with Rollei, SLR and Leica RF shots. What is really interesting is how well they all work together. I guess that is part of the reason why he has a beautiful studio in NYC, a beautiful house in burbs, and shoots J. Crew catalogs for pocket change.

5-Nov-2005, 15:03
That should have read. "When working with say an old verito at f4 it can be somewhat of a crap shoot with the limited depth of field." please excuse the penmanship.

5-Nov-2005, 15:41
Frank , I work both ways. One of my favorite lenses is a 14 1/2" Verito. Now if you shoot this wide open you are hard pressed to find anything in sharp focus. Personally I love the soft focus but when you're commissioned to do someones portrait they may not want such effect. I can then use a 16 1/2" Dagor and wide open at f 7.7 is a nice effect. But some people want every line and wrinkle to show so dialing down the Dagor or going to an Artar is also an option. Discussing these things with the client and showing examples of all of them is all part of the sitting fee. Why would someone want that much depth? A portriat of a Bride with a very long train is a good example. Here the wedding gown is as much the star as the bride herself and an eight foot train requires a little more depth if you want the details of the fabric sharp. Working in platinum I entirely contact print with in-camera negatives so working with enlarged 4x5 negatives is not an option. Personally I find contact prints to be quit stunning and the smallest format I shoot is 8x10. I also shoot 8x20 and will soon be adding a 14x17 to the mix. Granted it is not the most convenient way to work but I find it the most enjoyable and it meets the vision I'm trying to achieve. Now is that commercial work? Maybe. But I also work the same way in many of my own artistic endeavors.

Gregory Gomez
6-Nov-2005, 11:21

I don't think two minutes is a long time, but if you are concerned about the attention span of your subject, you could set up the shot and then ask the subject to step into it. This technique will require that you precisely know the depth of field of your portrait lens, and it will require that you practice a lot before actually taking your intended picture with real subjects.

When I did photojournalism, sometimes it would take me up to two hours to set up the shot I wanted; I had to remove all the distracting "environmental clutter." During that time, the intended model was not around to watch the setup. When I was ready, I asked by subject to step into the picture. Because I used available light, sometimes my subjects had to remain motionless for up to 1/2 of a second. They were able to do so without any difficulty so long as I guided them step by step through the process.

On the other hand, family members have been my worst subjects. Because they know me too well and don’t take my photographic experience very seriously, they usually give me an argument and are very quick to tell me to “hurry up” even if the shot has taken only 15 seconds.

Steven Barall
6-Nov-2005, 16:20
You frame and focus and then load the camera and cock the shutter and then deal with your subject. What difference does it make that there are two or twenty minutes between pulling the slide and plunging the shutter? You know, you can see the subject just by looking at him/her. If you really have to be looking at then upside down and backwards, stand on your head turn around and look through a mirror.

You have to adapt your desire to your circumstances. Large Format portraiture is wonderful. I once held in my hot little hands, the original Pach Brothers Ultra Large Format black and white glass plate negative portrait of Teddy Roosevelt. A true thing of beauty. I thought Teddy was going to start talking to me.

Ron Marshall
14-Nov-2005, 07:12
Here is another option: