Category Archives: Brighon portrait photographer

A Step by Step Guide to Using your Large Format Camera for the First Time.

Large Format Camera

It might look archaic, but a large format camera can produce fantastic images with the equivalent of over 100 mp.

 

Learning how to use a large format camera can seem a bit daunting if you are used to using a DSLR. There is no automation, and the camera is literally little more than a light tight box. In reality, there is nothing inherently difficult about making a photograph with a large format camera. You just have to be a bit more patient and a bit more methodical. The main differences are ergonomics and speed of operation, the principles of photography stay the same. Large format photography is much slower than digital photography, or even film photography with roll film or 35mm cameras. Some would argue that it is almost a different art form, because of the way it forces you to work.

Before you Start

Large format requires quite a lot of equipment in addition to the camera, so it’s a good idea to have a checklist of all things you need, especially if like me, you share some of that equipment with other set ups. It’s easy to forget something like your loupe or rocket blower, and it’s a real pain if you do.

I have also written a guide to loading large format film holders

My Basic Large Format Checklist

  • Camera
  • Lenses as Required
  • Tripod
  • Light Meter
  • Magnifying Loupe
  • Cable Release
  • Film Holders
  • Dark Cloth
  • Blower and Lens Cloth
  • Notepad and Pen
  • Multi Tool (for loose screws or allen keys)

You can keep your list in your camera bag so you can get into the habit of checking everything before you go. I keep mine on my smartphone, along with an app for depth of field calculation, and one that works as a light meter. A handy back up in case I forget my incident meter.

Camera Controls

 

Large Format Lens

A Copal Shutter with a 210mm lens fitted. Nothing here is very complicated. There are no fancy modes, just a clockwork shutter and a fully manual aperture.

 Your main camera controls are all on the shutter that the lens is fitted to. This is a modern Copal No.1 shutter, but most shutters made over the last 50+ years have a similar layout. Never adjust the shutter speed after cocking the shutter!!

Your only two exposure controls are shutter speed and aperture, ISO is governed by your film choice, and set on your light meter. Your film holders should be labelled by film type and speed for reference.

Making your First Large Format Photograph – Step by Step.

Step 1. Setting up your tripod

Manfrotto Tripod

Before Setting up your camera, make sure that your tripod legs are properly locked. Large Format cameras are heavy and well made, but very likely to break if they are dropped! Periodically check that any nuts and bolts on your tripod clamps haven’t come loose.

Set up your tripod, making sure all the legs are locked in place. Fix your camera to the tripod, and attach a lens. Fully open up the aperture on the lens. Screw in your cable release to the shutter.

Large format photography is all about detail and resolution so make sure that you have a stable tripod to shoot with. Nothing is more frustrating than having sharpness-robbing vibration ruin your shots.

 

Step 2. Level your Camera

large format camera spirit levels

When you first set up your camera, use the spirit levels to make sure it is straight and level. This makes it much easier to adjust things later.

 Using the spirit levels on the camera to make sure it is perfectly level – vertically and horizontally.

It’s best to start off with a straight and level camera, making sure that all tilts, swings and shifts are also zeroed. Most cameras will have detents on the main camera controls so the zeroed settings will just gently click into place. 4×5 has very shallow depth of field, so an inadvertently tilted or swung standard, or a camera that is not level can give you strange focus issues. It’s much easier to start with everything parallel and perpendicular. Also make sure that once you’ve zeroed the camera you lock off all the controls. That way you won’t get tilts or swings moving while you focus or vice-versa.

Step 3. Initial Focus and Composition.

Large Format Camera Focusing

These controls are not the same for all cameras. Field cameras in particular may not have both front and rear focus controls.

Use your dark cloth and focus the camera by eye. You don’t have to use a magnifier until later. Then begin to compose the picture using the ground glass. Remember you can use shifts to recompose the picture, you don’t have to move the tripod unless you need to change your point of view drastically. Once you have done this, try to work out what aperture you think you will need. Take a light meter reading to see how much light you have to play with, and try to figure out how much depth of field you think you need. There are smart phone apps that will help you with this, and make the process much easier. Generally, large format photographers shoot at around F11- F32. It’s not a rule, but most lenses are optimised for F22. The widest apertures are mainly there for ease of focusing.  Try and use either F16 or F22 when you are starting off, it will be more forgiving of a beginner’s focusing technique. You can always experiment with shallow depth of field later.

Step 4: Refine Focus and Composition

Using a Focusing Loupe

Press you loupe against the ground glass to focus. Remember depth of field is thin so check everywhere you think you need to. Don’t assume that things you THINK are on the same focusing plane are actually in focus.

Use your loupe to check that the image on the ground glass is sharp in all the places you want it to be. It is usually best to focus wide open then stop down to your working aperture to check you have enough depth of field. It is as this point you would use tilts and swings to maximise depth of field. Tilts and swings are not that difficult, but would take up too much space to deal with them here. So for now let’s assume you don’t have to use them. Once you are happy with focus check the corners of your image to make sure there is nothing creeping into the edge of frame. One of the beauties of a large format camera is you can compose your images very precisely, so make sure you take advantage of it.

Step 5. Lock Down the Camera

Shift Tilt Camera controls

These controls are typical of the type you get on monorails.

 

Once you are happy with your focus and composition, lock down all the controls on your camera. Ideally, you should lock each control after you have finished adjusting it. That way you don’t inadvertently move any controls while adjusting something else. In reality, you may find yourself adjusting a couple of things at once, like tilt and focus, and will lock both down together once you have finished.

Step 6. Final Meter Reading. Set Aperture and Shutter. Close Lens.

Incident Light Meter

A light meter is the easiest way to calculate exposure. A DSLR is also good but is another heavy thing to carry.

Take a meter reading and make your final shutter speed and aperture selection. I tend to do this quite late on because I live in the UK and the light can vary quite a lot with shifting cloud cover. Remember you can damage the shutter if you change the shutter speed when it is wound on, so always check before selecting your shutter speed. Once you have done this close the lens so the camera is light tight and ready to receive a film holder.

7. Insert Film Holder. Remove Dark Slide. Trip the Shutter.

Large Format camera with Film Loaded.

The camera with film loaded ready to shoot. It is good practice to leave your dark cloth over your bellows in case of pinholes. Remember to periodically check your bellows for faults, especially before important shoots.

 

Take out you film holder and remove any surface dust with your blower. You can also tap the holder onto the palm of your hand to dislodge any dust on the film. It should fall to the bottom of the holder. Insert your film holder gently. Your camera should be locked down but it’s best to err on the side of caution in case something moves. Double check that the lens is closed and the camera is light tight. Remove the dark slide. You are now ready to expose the film. Use the cable release to trip the shutter in one smooth stroke. As an extra precaution some photographers stand slightly away from the camera to avoid causing any vibrations. If you are a portrait photographer sometimes standing behind the camera can help you judge the correct moment of exposure. Once you have tripped the shutter carefully reinsert the dark slide with the black (exposed) tab facing out. Put the holder somewhere safe and then check the ground glass to see that focus hasn’t shifted. At this point many photographers make another duplicate exposure for safety. That of course is up to you.

Congratulations, you have just made your first large format photograph!

If you have found this tutorial useful please share it and help keep film alive.

Look at of my large format photography

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Also posted in advice for new photographers, Analogue Photography, Film Photography, Hints and Tips, Large Format Photography

Portrait Photography Tips – How to Prepare for Your Portrait Session

 

Portrait Photography Tips

Portrait Photography is a team effort. You might have searched long and hard for a portrait photographer, and might love his work, but there are still things you can do as a client that will make sure your photographs as good as they possibly can be. These simple portrait photography tips will help you get the most out of your photographer. When I take a booking from clients, I like to go through this simple check list with them that ensures they arrive looking great, feeling fresh and are ready to shoot!

Scheduling the Portrait Session.

One of the most critical things to ensuring a portrait session runs smoothly is making sure it is scheduled at a time where your children are well rested and fed and if we’re shooting outdoors, that the light is good. The best light for photographs is in the morning or afternoon, generally it is best to avoid the harsh light in the middle of the day. For small children morning is usually better. If you want to shoot outdoors I normally confirm everything a few days before, if the weather is not looking good I try to reschedule a date within two weeks of the original one. In cases of illness, it’s usually best to reschedule too unless it is a family get together that can’t easily be repeated.

How to Dress

I don’t like to have too many firm rules about how to dress for a portrait sitting, but these are some guidelines that can help. It’s a good idea to wear solid colours and to make sure everyone co-ordinates but doesn’t match too closely, if it is overdone it can look a bit false, like a cross between a catalogue and a religious cult!

Avoid patterned clothes like narrowly striped shirts or herringbone patterns as they can cause funny optical effects at certain print sizes. Logos have a tendency to date quickly so it’s wise to be cautious with them. If you are buying new outfits for your children check that they are comfortable in them beforehand, and that shoes don’t rub. This is particularly important with small children who won’t able to soldier through a shoot, they’ll be unhappy and they’ll let everyone know in no uncertain terms!

If possible keep some changes of clothes handy just in case, and remember to dress for the weather, don’t wear clothes that will make you sweat in the summer, or freeze half to death in the winter. Make sure that if you shooting in cooler weather you have enough clothes to keep warm while setting up or between shots. It can often be cooler than you think in exposed areas, and if you’re just waiting for the light to change or moving to a new location, the cold can quickly catch up with you.

Remember – if it looks a bit creased in the mirror, it will look very creased in a photograph, make sure your clothes are well ironed and sit well on your frame.

Grooming and Make up

If you want to get your hair cut for the shoot, it’s best to do it a week before the shoot date, the same for any beauty treatments liable to leave you looking blotchy. Natural make up is best, remember that photography tends to enhance colour and contrast so heavy make up is best avoided and spray tans need time to fade a little. Small blemishes, cuts or spots are easily removed in photoshop, so if a pimple appears on the morning of the shoot don’t panic! As a portrait photographer I prefer the more natural look. Family portraits could well be up on your wall for many years to come so it is best to be slightly conservative in how they are styled.

Drinks and Snacks

It’s a good idea to have a supply of drinks and snacks for younger children, it keeps them happy and can be used as bribes if need be! Remember not to bring anything too messy that could bring the session a sudden halt.

Have Fun!

If small children are involved make sure you tell them how much fun you’re going to have and what a treat it will be. Children pick up on things quickly and if you issue dire warnings about bad behaviour or offer them bribes for being good beforehand, they will think of a photo shoot the same way they think of a trip to the dentist. Emphasise that the shoot will a fun experience, that they can play and run around, and that there is no pressure to pose and stay stock still. I try not to shoot children’s portraits under time pressure, so there is plenty of time for young ones to warm up during a portrait session. I’ve shot enough portraits to know not to panic if I don’t get a great shot straight away, sometimes everyone has to work your their way into the shoot. It’s important that children don’t feel pressured into performing, as it can really knock their confidence and makes them uncomfortable. Better to just be patient. The great shots will come with time.

Follow these simple tips and you will get photos that you’ll really love and your family will enjoy the experience too!

I have a dedicated portrait photography site with lots of great examples of portrait photography I’ve shot around Chichester and West Sussex.

 

 

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Personal Project – Large Format Portrait Photography

Portrait Photography by Tobias Key

Simone, photographed in Brighton

 I have been working on a personal portrait  project for the past six months, shooting people in the vintage scene. I find the vintage scene intriguing, it reminds me of the rock-a-billy revival of the eighties and I don’t think it’s coincidental that retro trends tend to emerge from recessions. When times are tough I think nostalgia for simpler and more optimistic times increases, and the explosion of vintage fashion and events recently mirrors this.

I decided to work in a way I hadn’t before, partly for fun and partly to see if I could master the techniques that may soon be consigned to history.  I’d bought a large format camera on a whim about a year ago, and I’d always admired the work of the greats such as Avedon, Karsh, and Newman, as well as more recent fine art practitioners such as Alec Soth. I wanted an insight in to this most enduring of photographic methods.

I’ll be posting more images soon 🙂

 

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Also posted in advice for new photographers, brighton, Brighton photographer, Chichester photographer, Chichester portrait photographer, commercial photography, Editorial Photography Tagged , , , , |

Top tips for shooting on the Beach

10 Top Tips for Shooting on a Sandy Beach

 

I always love shooting at the beach, I think it brings out a bit of summer holiday spirit in everyone.  West Wittering near Chichester where I live, is probably the best beach within easy reach of London, being golden sand instead of the more usual pebbles on the south coast. It also has good toilet facilities and and a cafe, important if you want to keep young (or indeed older) children happy.  These are my top tips for shooting on West Wittering or indeed any other sandy beach.

1. Safety.

Safety should always be your number one priority.  Always make sure you are aware of any potential dangers before you start shooting. If you are anything like me, once you start shooting you’ll be concentrating on the next shot and not the environment around you. For example, the beach at West Wittering has a safe bathing area marked by flags and patrolled by life guards, further down towards East Head there are strong currents and bathing is not recommended. Whichever beach you are at make sure you are aware of any potential hazards associated with it.

2. Take care of your camera equipment.

Obvious really but it’s important to do all you can to keep sand out of your camera.  Normally I set up my camera before I get on the the beach, so I don’t have to change lenses or memory cards in a sandy environment.  The areas that are worst for drifting sand are above the high water mark, where the wind will tend to blow sand everywhere, if you have to change lenses either go down onto the wet sand  or return to your car . If you want to shoot in dry sand East Head at the far end of the beach is better as  it’s much more sheltered.

Another top tip is to bag up your more expensive equipment with sealable food bags that you can get from the supermarket.  That way if you take your bag onto the beach you have a second line of defence – Sand WILL get into your camera bag.

3. Keep an eye on the weather.

I find the easiest weather for shooting on the beach is bright but overcast weather, it’s flattering, you can shoot in any direction without your subject squinting and the beach will be less busy. Sunny days are also great but it’s important you pick either early in the morning or late afternoon to get the best light.   Also it’s important to to make sure your subject isn’t looking into the sun and squinting, and that there isn’t any harsh shadows falling across their face.

One thing to remember is to not just look at the cloud conditions but also make note of the wind speed.  I lived only a mile or two from the beach and it’s amazing how much stronger the wind is on the beach compare to even a little way inland.  As a rule of thumb an indicated wind speed of 20 mph. will seem very strong in a beach setting and will severely impede you.  If it is very windy you can get some respite sheltering in the dunes, but you may want to admit defeat and visit another day.

Another tip is top keep an eye on the cloud formations to the west of you (or wherever the prevailing wind is where you live) .  If rain is coming this is where it will come from, and on the coast you can see it coming 10-20 minutes before it arrives.  I’ve done many a shoot where I’ve able to shoot between rain showers in this way.

4. Think wide – think details

Beaches are a great place for environmental portraits. Use a moderate wide angle to really pull in the surroundings around your subject.  Alternatively little ones love picking up shells and stones focussing in close to their hands give another great picture option.

5. Don’t forget the Sunblock

If you’re busy shooting you won’t feel the sun until it’s too late. Be warned

6. Time of Day

You can shoot successfully on the beach at anytime of day if you are careful, but the light is definitely best early in the morning or in the evening.  It is also quieter then which is an added advantage.

7. Tides

On beaches like the Witterings there is a big difference between high and low tide,  bear that in mind when you plan a shoot and plan accordingly.  There’s no point turning up to shoot on the sand flats when the sea is lapping around the top of the beach, if you wanted to shoot waves or surfers they are only around at the high tide.  The sea also comes in fast, often moving 10 or 20 yards up the beach before you’ve realised, there’s not much danger of getting cut off on this particular beach, but you could easily ruin anything you left on the sand while you were working. Make sure you know whether tide is moving in or out.

8. Light Modifiers

Reflectors are useful but vulnerable to the wind so you’d need an assistant rather than relying on a stand. Off camera flash in an umbrella would also be asking for trouble on a breezy day unless the stand was held down by a sandbag  or willing helper.  Remember some light modifiers are less likely to blow over than others and small flash units are easier to weigh down. Speedlights  offer less power than a studio light and battery pack but are more weather sealed.

9. Filters

I know filters are one of those issues that split photographers. Some insist on having one permanently on very lens they own whilst others fret that a filter would rob their lens of precious sharpness. On the beach you have the delightful combination of damp salty air and abrasive blowing sand to contend with. Sand in particular is hazardous not so much when it lands on a lens but when you try to get it off. Never try to clean the lens at the beach with anything other than a rocket air blower  unless you are certain it is totally sure it is sand free.  Personally I think a filter is the best compromise, especially if you are using expensive lenses. A simple UV filter is the best insurance against damaging a lens.  If you do scratch a lens don’t despair, small scatches do almost nothing to affect optical quality, but they do have an impact on the resale value.

10. Home Again

I have a set routine that I follow when returning from a day’s shooting at the beach.  The first thing I do is remove everything from the camera bag and then hoover the bag out. There is always a good teaspoon of sand hiding in the bottom of it, no matter how careful I think I’ve been.  Second I do a visual check for sand on my lenses and cameras, using a rocket air blower to remove any that I find, remembering to check the back of lens caps – the spring catches are a good trap for sand. Next I try the focusing rings for any sand in them, I’ve found that if you can’t blow the sand out, a piece of photocopy paper can remove sand from any joints, I don’t know if this is the best solution but it is surely better than leaving sand to wear away at mechanical components.

 

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Also posted in advice for new photographers, beach, Chichester photographer, child portrait, Hints and Tips