View Full Version : Looking for suggestions - shooting b&w portrait for very large print

16-Jun-2011, 16:48
Hey guys...I am hoping to get some ideas from y'all about a shoot I have coming up.

I have a pretty good client who has given me lots of business, and I proposed a shot of his kid that will be printed 60"x40" or 50". I have done prints up to 36x24 from my D700 with reasonably good results (when shot with my very best lenses) but I'd really like to be enlarging up any further from a 4x5 neg.

So here are my questions: First, I plan on shooting Tri-X 320 for the speed. I will also be using a flash probably synced to my lens (Schneider APO 150mm) since I found out I can do that. Now the client is a medium-dark skinned African-American. My first question is, what filter should I (if any) be using for that kind of skin tone? Or alternatively, what Zone might I look to put that skin tone on. I don't have much experience doing portraiture with the Zone system. Second, what ISO might I expose the Tri-X at and what developing time should I do, using either D-76 or Xtol?

I'm still new at the large format game so any suggestions are immensely helpful, especially since my work with film is mostly not portraiture.

16-Jun-2011, 17:52
Hmm. I'm no pro but, you seem to be unclear on some VERY BASIC issues. If you don't even know where to place the skin tone and haven't done film or development testing, are you really comfortable doing this for your client? And, unless you'll be optically printing this (which I can only assume you are not) why bother shooting film at all? Why not just continue to use the D700? I've owned that camera. It's a great camera.

16-Jun-2011, 18:10
I don't ever do portraiture on film, as I stated. Also I have trouble enough with dark skin tones in digital, but since I can convert to b&w at will with different color filters I can experiment to my heart's content - unlike straight b&w film.

I develop my own film but haven't used Tri-X 320 before, just got it. I normally shoot TMax100 so I could use that if I need but I wanted the extra speed.

I will be shooting with the D700 along with it but I want to use film for the higher resolution it will garner.

Just looking for ideas...

Frank Petronio
16-Jun-2011, 18:57
Size doesn't matter unless you are really close to the print and can do a side by side comparison. If the client isn't compared the D700 output to the 4x5 film results, they won't know the difference so let sleeping dogs lie... unless your 4x5 is so perfect and awesome that it clearly is better. But for people photos, the expressions and poses and light are so much more important, those are really the important editing factors. Being an experienced DSLR shooter, you will probably do better with the Nikon long before you get solid with the 4x5. That's OK. It takes time.

So are you printing silver or scanning to inkjet print?

Don't filter, you need the speed even if there was a magical skin filter (there isn't). But a Yellow/Red/Magenta/Warm will lighten skin and a Blue/Green/Cyan/Cool will darken it.

I'd put medium toned people at Zone V, (tan-olive at VI, pale goths at VII, deep blacks at IV or III.) It can be almost political how you place the flesh tones on some black people, you have to be sensitive to their tastes to keep them happy. Most whites would get mad if you made them blown out or printed them dark and swarthy too.

So... you might better be sure to control the highlights and shadows and let the skin fall where it may, so long as it's inbetween ;-) You can always print them darker or lighter.

I'd practice with non-paying people first, or do the 4x5 as a fun sideline experiment, not as part of the paid assignment, then if you mess up you aren't obligated to deliver some mediocre attempt.

Also might consider shooting Portra 400 color neg and converting the color scan like a DSLR Raw file for the B&W conversion. Gives you a lot of control.

16-Jun-2011, 19:14
Thanks Frank. I know the D700 will give me a great image that I will be happy to deliver, but I still love shooting and using film...

Definitely will be scanning and sending out for ink printing.

I have some Fuji 160S that I've gotten good results from so I'll throw in a color shot in there just to see what happens, good call.

Thanks for the suggestions!

Jim Noel
17-Jun-2011, 08:47
Using film -
Tri-X is definitely not the film to use.
A slower film has finer grain,possibly TMax 100; also enables you to shoot more wide open enabling selective focus to put more emphasis on the subject. Develop in T-Max developer or HC 110 dil b.

Daniel Stone
17-Jun-2011, 10:57
IF you're still intent on shooting 4x5here's a quick recommendation:

1.Shoot Portra 400(color neg)
2.Get the final selected shots drum scanned(you'll NEED a drum scan for 40x50 if you want it to look good)
3.PS the thing to your's AND your clients liking. You'll have BOTH color AND b/w versions of each shot(more choices for your client, that's a good thing).
4.output the print via inkjet/lightjet, etc... Whatever your client wants

keep a good client, and this job could turn them into a GREAT client :).

OH... shoot with the D700 as well. You never know, you might get a better shot by being able to shoot quickly.


Andy Eads
17-Jun-2011, 22:32
Dan Stone's suggestions are very good. I'd be a bit concerned about the focal length though. 150 mm is wide for portraits. If your client is used to seeing portraits done with equivalent focal lengths from your D700, you're ok. Personally, I use a 240 mm lens for portraits to get the facial perspective where I like it. At f/8 it has enough depth of field to cover the subject's head with everything else falling away nicely.


18-Jun-2011, 03:58
Keep it warm in the studio. This will allow your sitter to form a light sheen on his skin, which is helpful for separating tones on dark-skinned individuals. Light it so that the shine is apparent on enough surfaces to give the face dimension. If the skin is all one shade of gray you won't be able to create any texture or shape, no matter what zone you put it on. With light-skinned people, the shadows on the face do this. With dark-skinned people, do it with the highlights, especially if the sitter is male.

That means do not use one flash at the camera. Use several flashes from either side and from above. The flashes should have medium-sized reflectors. Studio hot lights or flashes with modeling lights would really be helpful here.

A light green filter might help separate the tones more. Experiment.

The above applies even with a DSLR.

The grain on Tri-X, even at 4x5, will be apparent at a 10x enlargement. You need quite fine-grained film to hold up to that degree of enlargement, unless you don't mind a grainy look. Your D700 will not hold up to that degree of enlargement without showing ragged edges, even using software to add (fake) detail. And at a 44x enlargement from a D700, you'll go far beyond what any lens can deliver. I've seen commercial work at that degree of enlargement using a DSLR, and it looked like crap from any distance closer than ten feet. But that doesn't mean 4x5 will make it easy--there is a bit of technique that you must learn quickly before you should waste the sitter's time.

What will you do with the film after you make the exposure? Are you going to process it yourself? Do you have experience with that? Scan it? If so, using what? The capabilities you have after the shutter is released are more important to the advice you need than what I wrote above.

Rick "who would light the face to allow the dark parts of the face to be placed on Zone IV without the shiny highlights going above Zone VII or VIII" Denney

18-Jun-2011, 07:29
Thanks for the further suggestions.

I have a Schneider 210mm as well as a Tele-Xenar 360mm. I can shoot with Tmax100 instead I suppose and push it if I need the speed?? I develop myself. I am scanning with an Agfa T2500, and I've gotten some really, really good results. I don't mind some grain though if I were to use the Tri-X. The only color neg film I have on hand is Fuji 160S. I am reluctant to buy different film, I have gotten a couple large stockpiles so I don't need it!

I just shot a headshot the other day on the D700 with my 135mm DC, which will be my lens of choice on this shoot too. It gave incomparable detail. I would be interested in at least trying a good shot with that lens printed up to 60." I mean I literally couldn't see one hint of grain or softness anywhere in the frame at 100%.

In times past I have gotten really great results with two flashes, one on camera straight up and one about 3 feet to the left or right, again straight up, in rooms with ~10ft ceilings.

Here's the thing, this shoot is actually pro-bono, as an experiment. I am only going to charge for the materials and print. I'm hoping that I can get some valuable experience and use that for doing this more often.

20-Jun-2011, 17:44
I always thought the Zone System was best for landscape and architecture photography. Since you are working in a studio with controlled light, you might want to test shooting with readings from your meter with the diffusion dome on... You place the meter AT the subject, and point it toward the camera; if there is more than one light source (and usually there is), then you try to make sure that all sources are hitting the "dome."

D-76 is easier to source and is allegedly less prone to going bad; XTOL is better for the environment and allegedly gives a little more shadow detail / speed. I use XTOL; either is a fine developer.

There's nothing wrong with Tri-X, though as others have noted, it will get grainy. A good 100 speed film might be worthwhile. I did a lot of portraiture in 4x5 using Foma / Arista EDU Ultra 100 shot at EI 50 and developed to box recommendations (for ISO 100) in Rodinal 1+50. It was a very classic look, between the film and the developer.

If I could give any advice, though, it would be to repeat that you should experiment in non-paying situations first. Portraiture in 4x5/LF is just a different beast altogether compared with the nimble dance of a dSLR.

21-Jun-2011, 21:17
If you usually use TMAX 100, step up to TMAX 400, grain is almost identical (I cannot tell in my images) and you get all that speed. (I wish the 3200 came this large!) Use the TMAX developer or D76. If grain is going to be a problem, you might consider just going with it and developing for grain.