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Thread: Why was 8x10 the standard for portraits?

  1. #11
    W K Longcor
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    Re: Why was 8x10 the standard for portraits?

    The studio I worked in in the early 1960's used 5x7 as the standard format for head & shoulders portraits. 8x10 was used for full lengths and always for full bridal portaits ( max detail in "THE DRESS"). 4x5 was for ID and passport photos. (On passports - cost $3.00 -- we shot one sheet and our only promise was that your eyes were open and you were in focus).The reasons for the selection were all of the ones mentioned by everyone else. 98% of these photos were in b&w. Some color ( the very early - unmasked neg. - Agfa color) was shot on the 5x7. In color you had to buy at least a 16x20 print to get us to even bother with the very difficult process. By 1970, when serious color was done -- we had 120 roll film adaptors on ALL cameras ( including the 8x10.)

  2. #12

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    Re: Why was 8x10 the standard for portraits?

    Excellent question. Thanks for asking it.
    Wilhelm (Sarasota)

  3. #13

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    Re: Why was 8x10 the standard for portraits?

    Yeah I worked for a (loser) son of a early photographer and he just did crappy little jobs, half a dozen a day for peanuts undercutting everyone else in town. He never upgraded and just milked the business - the most recent gear was from the 50s and this was in 1984. He had a 120 Graflex back - knob wind of course - on a rickety old 8x10 Deardorff. At least Dad bought good gear, this guy was such a joke.

    When he shot product shots on 8x10 he was so lazy he would only fill the frame maybe 25% with the object, it would only be 2-3 inches tall on the 8x10 film. But the clients were crappy too so they didn't know any better and nothing really mattered.

  4. #14

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    Re: Why was 8x10 the standard for portraits?

    I blame Kodak for the reduction in format. If only they didn't keep making smaller, faster, finer and cheaper films!

  5. #15

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    Re: Why was 8x10 the standard for portraits?

    One reason that I don't think has been mentioned (though Jim Galli alluded to it) is that they used 8x10 because that was what they had, left over from the days when contact printing was the norm and few serious photographers used those little miniature (i.e. 4x5) cameras.
    Brian Ellis
    Before you criticize someone, walk a mile in their shoes. That way when you do criticize them you'll be
    a mile away and you'll have their shoes.

  6. #16
    Resident Heretic Bruce Watson's Avatar
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    Re: Why was 8x10 the standard for portraits?

    Quote Originally Posted by Brian Ellis View Post
    One reason that I don't think has been mentioned (though Jim Galli alluded to it) is that they used 8x10 because that was what they had, left over from the days when contact printing was the norm and few serious photographers used those little miniature (i.e. 4x5) cameras.
    Yup. That too: "We've always done it this way."

    Bruce Watson

  7. #17
    Drew Wiley
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    Re: Why was 8x10 the standard for portraits?

    It's already been said, but retouching is SOOO much easier, especially with a traditional film which has a bit of "tooth" or retouching surface. Often all you need
    is a soft ordinary pencil. Add a little red dye to your kit and you can throw away
    your Photoshop.

  8. #18
    multi format
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    Re: Why was 8x10 the standard for portraits?

    Quote Originally Posted by W K Longcor View Post
    The studio I worked in in the early 1960's used 5x7 as the standard format for head & shoulders portraits. 8x10 was used for full lengths and always for full bridal portaits ( max detail in "THE DRESS"). 4x5 was for ID and passport photos. (On passports - cost $3.00 -- we shot one sheet and our only promise was that your eyes were open and you were in focus).The reasons for the selection were all of the ones mentioned by everyone else. 98% of these photos were in b&w. Some color ( the very early - unmasked neg. - Agfa color) was shot on the 5x7. In color you had to buy at least a 16x20 print to get us to even bother with the very difficult process. By 1970, when serious color was done -- we had 120 roll film adaptors on ALL cameras ( including the 8x10.)
    me too but it was the 80s ...
    she was trained in the 20s/30s ...
    she used an 8x10 camera and a 5x7 reduction back
    bread+butter was split 5x7 pr photos, and formals were whole sheets ...
    she shot this way mainly so she could shoot a 14" lens and not be in her sitter's face.
    the negs were retouched with lead ...
    most things were 5x7s and 8x10s, and i printed 16x20 and larger from the full sheets ...

    it is hard to believe there isn't 1 "formal" portrait photographer left where i live ( RI )
    who shoots film, or even a sensor larger than a 35mm dslr ...
    except for the random risd student and me ...

  9. #19
    Japan Exposures
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    Re: Why was 8x10 the standard for portraits?

    Quote Originally Posted by jnanian View Post
    it is hard to believe there isn't 1 "formal" portrait photographer left where i live ( RI )
    who shoots film, or even a sensor larger than a 35mm dslr ...
    except for the random risd student and me ...
    Not only technology has changed, but also people's expectations towards photography. The standards for "good enough" are very low now. Most people are delighted with cheap prints that look pretty crappy. Home-made digital prints have lowered the bar even more. The stuff that comes out of people's consumer level printers, shiny, smeared, yellow skin, pixelated, fading it's pretty bad. A studio which excessively over-delivers would shoot itself in the foot. And it's not just in photography.
    Last edited by Dirk Rösler; 2-Mar-2010 at 23:04.

  10. #20
    Downstairs
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    Re: Why was 8x10 the standard for portraits?

    The 8x10 contact-print workflow was as easy as pie. As Will said, negative retouching was an essential part of the workflow.
    8x10 prints were perfect for framing and even for process printing - in fact the photolithography process was standardised around the format.
    A harder question to answer is 'why 8x10 colour transparencies?'. The simple answer is because it helped tell the men from the boys. But again, it was the photolith houses who just found it easier and cheaper (they could use apprentice labour) to make contrast masks and separations from 8x10. They put pressure on their clients (ad agency or editorial production managers) to insist on 8x10.

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