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Thread: Too soft of focus during outdoor portraits

  1. #1

    Too soft of focus during outdoor portraits

    I have recently been enjoying myself by becoming more involved in portrait photography with my 4x5 camera. Being somewhat inexperienced in this area and attempting to learn how to control the strong light (facial shadows) I have mostly elected to shoot on overcast days. I do realize that I could use a reflector to fill the shadows but as there is only myself and the subject present and the fact that I hike a distance for some of these shooting sessions the idea of carrying an extra piece of equipment does not seem appropriate.

    The problem I seem to be running into is that the focus frequently seems too soft when I am enlarging the negatives. At this moment I am attributing this to the fact that I am using a slow shutter in the 1/8th to ¼ range and thus the natural slight movement of the subject is causing this effect. Do you think that my assumption is correct?

    The reason I find myself using these speeds is that with a typical f-stop of f/11 or f/16 I need to use speeds like this to obtain an exposure on my Tri-X rated at 160 ASA. The lenses I own and use typically start at the f/9 range. (approximately).

    I have asked the subject (model) to resist moving during the instance of shooting but feel that this affects the natural posing of my subject as well as infringes upon the goodwill of my willing and friendly model. After all the subject is not a paid model and as such I do not wish to look a “gift horse in the mouth”. Would you have any helpful suggestion for helping me to improve my ability to produce a sharper negative in this situation?

    Kind Regards,

  2. #2

    Too soft of focus during outdoor portraits

    I have had extensive experiences with portraits in the exact same conditions which you describe (I think that given the situation and common speed of most the used films most of us did the same) and I must say that I have had a rathether different eperience, most people are able to " hold it still ! " , I had some trouble with my 92 years old grandma though, she kept on swinging, forward, as it were. Try to choose a position which helps the subject, talk to them so that they can relax and than focus and be swift with shooting. Check that your camera is not producing vibrations they would be a lot more damaging than the subject's. Either than that.......Good luck!

  3. #3
    Whatever David A. Goldfarb's Avatar
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    Too soft of focus during outdoor portraits

    You must be framing pretty tightly to get be getting those kinds of shutter speeds on an overcast day outdoors, figuring that without bellows factor you should be around f:5.6-8.0 at 1/125 sec. at EI 160. I think the solution is to shoot either when there is more light and maybe bring a small flash unit for fill (since you've ruled out a reflector and stand as too much to carry), or shoot 3/4-length and longer portraits to reduce the bellows factor.

  4. #4
    Resident Heretic Bruce Watson's Avatar
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    Too soft of focus during outdoor portraits

    Well, an f/9 lens at f/11 is likely to be a bit soft. Add that to your slow shutter speed, which will add a little movement blur to the mix. Add that to your EI...

    Consider the following. You could change developers to get a higher EI. Tri-X in Xtol 1:3 gives me an EI of 400. There's at least an extra stop right there. Any of the acutance developers will give you more real film speed.

    Then, you could pack in a reflector and an air actuated shutter release - say 25 feet long. That way you could setup on your subject, then move the reflector into position, and take the exposure while holding the reflector. Now, you'd be running back and forth between reflector and camera with every exposure, but it's doable.

    Alternately, you can pack in a light stand and some empty sandbags with the reflector. Setup the stand and clamp the reflector in place. Fill the sandbags with whatever you can find on site to ballast the stand. Then, make exposures like you normally would.

    Just suggestions....

    Bruce Watson

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