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Thread: Why was 8x10 the standard for portraits?

  1. #1

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    Why was 8x10 the standard for portraits?

    Karsh, Newman, etc., etc.

    OK, not Strand, only sometimes Avedon, but still, a lot of photographers keyed on 8x10 for portraits, by which I mean not just head and shoulders but up to environmental.

    Why?

    They weren't generally making huge prints (Avedon, when he used 8x10, being a notable exception).

    The lenses, if they were working in the 360mm range, made it more difficult to manipulate apparent depth of field.

    Was it a matter of the quality of emulsions?

    A knee-jerk bigger is better?

    Something to do with the printing process, whether as photographs or pre-press?

    Something else?
    Cheers!

  2. #2
    wfwhitaker
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    Re: Why was 8x10 the standard for portraits?

    8x10 negatives are easier to retouch.

  3. #3

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    Re: Why was 8x10 the standard for portraits?

    Professional photographers shot a lot of stuff 8x10. Even in the early 80s when I was an assistant, some of the older guys would shoot 8x10 product shots and REDUCE size for reproduction.

    I'm sure in Avedon's case it was a conscious decision to use 8x10. But for a lot of shooters earlier than Avedon, it was probably just "normal".

    But in the late 70s-80s, as color became more reliable, there was a large trend amongst the MFA art crowd to use large format, first for landscapes and then people. Nicholas Nixon's 8x10 cityscapes came first, then his intimate family photos....

    Also a lot of photographers used large cameras without even mentioning it -- we are more attune to that now but at the time it was unusual to just hand in a good print....

  4. #4

    Re: Why was 8x10 the standard for portraits?

    Because that is what it took to get great quality.
    And it was what they had.
    And they were making real prints in real darkrooms.
    The big negatives made better prints easier.
    Retouching, also.

  5. #5
    Resident Heretic Bruce Watson's Avatar
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    Re: Why was 8x10 the standard for portraits?

    Quote Originally Posted by wfwhitaker View Post
    8x10 negatives are easier to retouch.
    +1. Exactly. Hollywood glamor portraits were all about retouching. Prior to that they were generally making contact prints. At least in the years prior to, say, the late 1800s. And 10x8 makes an excellent size print.

    As time went forward, lens design and in particular lens manufacturing improved. Emulsions improved. We went from coating our own plates in the field (e. g. wet plate collodion) to dry plates, to film. As the image quality got better, the captured image got smaller. Because that's what the people buying the equipment and film wanted. Photo journalists in particular.

    Some times we think improvements aren't. Sometimes we think they are. But that's generally what happened.

    Bruce Watson

  6. #6
    hacker extraordinaire
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    Re: Why was 8x10 the standard for portraits?

    I always figured it was just for that big, easy-to-see ground glass. Squinting at a 4x5 ground glass with a loupe is something I don't mind doing in the field, but if I was working in the studio it would get old fast.

  7. #7

    Re: Why was 8x10 the standard for portraits?

    Because it works well.

    Because 11X14 cost 4 times 8X10.

    Because 4X5 is too small and 5X7 seemed amateur.

    Because all the lens companies made really GREAT 8X10 lenses.

    Ect, ect, ect.

  8. #8

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    Re: Why was 8x10 the standard for portraits?

    I know from a friend who was a Hollywood photographer during 40's, 50's and 60's that 8x10 was the standard, because they could knock off so many more contact versus enlarged prints in the same period of time.

    In particular, this was true for photographs used to advertise movies all over the country.

  9. #9
    Mark Sawyer's Avatar
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    Re: Why was 8x10 the standard for portraits?

    And because the standard head-shot was an "8x10 glossy".
    "I love my Verito lens, but I always have to sharpen everything in Photoshop..."

  10. #10

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    Re: Why was 8x10 the standard for portraits?

    Because every back woods studio in America had one of these.


    The bigger one, not so much, but the 8X10 with stand is common.

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