Category Archives: Chichester portrait photographer

Shooting Large Format Portraits On Location – A Hands-On Guide.

 

Large Format Portrait

I have been shooting large format portraits in my personal work for the last five years.

This is partly for aesthetic reasons, and partly to give myself a break from digital photography when I am shooting for fun. That is not to say that I apprieciate what digital can offer. I do, but using a view camera is very different. It gives me a new challenge, and a new perspective in how to approach the portrait.

Many photographers are intimidated by the idea of shooting film and the thought of using such a large and archaic camera. In reality, a view camera is a very simple device. There is genuinely nothing complicated about it, it is just a very well made box!

Each step in setting up the camera is simple. But there are quite a few steps and forgetting one usually wastes a sheet of film.

If you know your basics, and understand the camera’s strengths and limitations, large format photography straightforward, if not simple. Like any camera, there are only three essential controls, aperture, shutter speed and focus. For portraits, the only movements you really need are front rise and fall, and these are only to help composition. I shoot with a monorail camera and tripod weighing close to 6kg, and it is just not practical to compose using the tripod head. It is much easier to set the tripod straight and level and use camera movements to fine tune your composition.

What catches the novice out is not the difficulty of any particular step. Each step is easy. It is missing any of these simple steps out that often leads to a wasted sheet of film.

Large Format Portraits

Walking around a 40 acre site like the Weald and Downland Museum with a large format camera takes a certain degree of planning.

It was July when I got a press pass to shoot at The Weald and Downland Museum’s Living History Festival . I regularly shoot commercial photography for the museum, so I already had a good relationship with them. It also meant I knew where everything was and how to get there without having to wander around too aimlessly. One of the first questions you ask yourself when shooting large format is “How am I going to get all my heavy camera gear to where it needs to be to take pictures? Preferably without hurting my back or having a heart attack”. 

Getting from place to place

Working in a large open air museum is a challenge. The buildings are spread out over a 40 acre site, and most of it is hilly. Thousands of people go there at the weekend so you can find yourself parked a good few minutes walk from the museum proper. It is not so straightforward to nip back for a lens or extra film holders. 

Commercial Photographer SussexSet up and Gear

I prefer to set up my camera up from the boot of my car, attach it to a tripod and walk around with it like that. I pad one shoulder with my dark cloth so the tripod doesn’t dig in to my skin. Then I  hang my camera bag on the other shoulder. A back pack would probably distribute the weight better, but I do need easy access to my holders. My camera is a Toyo-View 45C monorail. It is more portable than a lot of rail cameras, but not exactly a featherweight. A field camera would be a lot lighter, but most lack the bellows extension I need for shooting close with my longer lenses. A monorail is also nicer to shoot with once it is set up. Mine has geared movements, and is very stable and precise.

I decided to stick with one lens, my Schneider 210mm APO Symmar. Not only is it my most used lens, it is also a spectacular performer in all condtions. I can honestly say I didn’t realise how good lenses could be until I got this one.

One of the essential skills of large format photography is knowing what to leave out of the accessories bag. I decided to stick with one lens, a loupe, and a light meter so that I could pack in as many film holders as I could.

I packed 15 holders in my bag, enough for 30 shots. The plan was to take two pictures of every subject I chose. Normally, I work in a way that I direct people until I think I have the shot I want, and expose one sheet of film. I then shoot another sheet which is usually a close duplicate of the first shot. When it comes to processing I split the two sheets into different batches for development. That way if there is some problem with exposure or a user error in the development process, I know that I have a back up of the image. Of course this does mean you have to label all your holders and keep notes. However, it does cut down the risk of disaster.

Approaching strangers to take their picture is something that a lot of photographers dread.

The great thing about using a large format camera is that it is a good conversation piece. People often seek me out to talk about the camera. If I ask to take someone’s photo, they are usually happy to pose for me.

After a hard day shooting,  it was interesting to meet another photographer at the end of the day and compare notes. He was telling me how hard it was for him to get people to pose for him, and how disinterested they were with the process, he was using a Nikon DSLR and profoto flash.

I had totally the opposite experience, the re-enactors were very interested in the camera and the whole process. They wanted to know how it all worked and the fact the method was so close to how a Victorian might have taken their picture had huge appeal. I had as many subjects as I could handle. After photographing each person I exchanged details, and made sure everyone got a photo in the next couple of weeks. I think this is a really important thing to do and helps keep people open to other photographers taking their picture.

Routine is everything when shooting large format portraits.

It is important to make the portrait making process as easy as possible for your sitter. I prepared by setting up my camera as much as could beforehand. So I set my exposure and zeroed the camera’s tilts and shifts. I also made sure that the camera focussed to about 10ft.  Even mostly set up, the camera is still slow to shoot, so a mastery of small talk is often a necessity.

Once I have everything set up, I get my subject to pose by standing next to them and getting them to mirror what I do. I then go back to the camera and I get my subject to look at the camera instead of me -you can’t look through a view camera once the film is inserted and people will instinctively look at me rather than the lens. I have found you have to be quite vocal when shooting portrits this way. You can’t shoot a lot of shots hoping that some magic will happen. You have to make the magic, then take the shot. Suprisingly, now that I am used to it, I prefer not looking through a camera when I am taking someone’s picture. It is easier to look directly at someone and really increases your connection with them. Different methods yield different results, and that’s exciting.

I would recommend large format photography to anyone. I have learned so much shooting this way and much of it is applicable to other formats. Changing your camera can often change your photographs, and there is no bigger change than a view camera.

Toby

I am a professional photographer based in Chichester, West Sussex, England.

See more of my Commercial Photography 

 

 

 

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Jos and Sam’s London Engagement Shoot.

Portrait Photographed on the South Bank

I met up with Jos and Sam on the South Bank. They got engaged there a few months earlier. Sam had expressed her nerves about being photographed on her wedding day. An engagement shoot was a great opportunity to put her at her ease. The area was very crowded, so I must admit I felt a little as if I throwing them in at the deep end. It can certainly be quite intimidating to have your portrait made with so many people around.

One advantage of shooting in a big city is that even though it is often swarming with people, everyone pretty much ignores you. So in lots of ways it’s easier to work here than you might imagine.  I am originally a Londoner myself and quite familiar with the area. We soon found some great spots to take pictures.

An Engagement Shoot is a great way to boost your confidence if you are nervous about having your picture taken.

An engagement shoot is a great way to spend time with clients, chat with them and get to know them a bit better. I think it really help the whole creative process if you build a bit of trust and develop an understanding. As wedding professionals we can easily forget how daunting a wedding day can be. That’s not made any easier by having someone you’ve never met before take pictures of you while you are getting ready, or repeating your vows. So getting to know my clients first is a must for me, and I think it really helps them. Posing for photographs is definitely something you can improve with a little guided practise, and is always something I recommend.

 

I think we spent a couple of hours wandering around. My wife and children had decided to take advantage of the trip to go and see a show in the Festival Hall, so I was in no rush. There are lots of little areas around here that seem to change quite regularly, so there’s always something new to find as a back drop.

 

Enagagement Shoot

The pictures were really nice. They really showed the strength of their relationship and were full of character and fun. We managed to avoid having an errant tourist in the background, despite the crowds. From the look of the pictures you would have though we were there at 6 o’clock in the morning. But it just goes to show you can find space anywhere if you look hard enough.

Engagement Shoot

Toby

I work a wedding photographer in West Sussex and Hampshire. An engagement shoot is included in all of my most popular packages. I also shoot portrait photography and commercial work. In my spare time I am currently experimenting with large format film photography.

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Beginners Guide for Shooting Portraits on 4×5 Film.

 

 

I love shooting portraits on sheet film. They have a lovely smooth tonality and uncanny depth to them. A classic style that makes anyone look fantastic.

 

Large format cameras can seem intimidating . In reality, a view camera is actually a very straightforward device. It has same basic controls as any other camera, focus, aperture and shutter. The camera came seem old fashioned compared to a modern DLSR, but it can produce results that can’t easily be copied by a digital camera. Large format cameras have many controls that a standard digital camera doesn’t. Develop you skills and you can use these to your benefit. These are my tips for making great large format portraits.

Lens Selection

Lens selection for large format is not quite as straightforward as it is with other formats. Although you can fit almost any lens on to almost any camera in theory, the reality can often be more complicated.  Longer lenses  (240mm +) can often be big and heavy and require a lot of bellows extension for portraits. On top of that, they generally come in large No.3 shutters which only have a fastest shutter speed of 1/125, and because they work on 8×10 cameras, they often are more expensive too. 

For all of these reasons I would recommend a 210mm 5.6 lens as your first portrait lens. They are relatively cheap, plentiful and easy to use. They can be focused to portrait distances with any camera that has 300mm of bellows extension (which is the vast majority of view cameras) and are not so heavy as to make lighter field cameras unstable. Any modern lens from the major manufacturers (Schneider, Rodenstock, Fuji or Nikon) will be an excellent performer.

Have a Shot List and shoot your film sensibly.

Using a view camera is a deliberate process, and there is less room for spontaneity than if you were shooting a smaller format. Portraits tend to be more formal. Personally, I prefer to work from a plan. I have a list of poses I want to shoot. I work on getting my sitter into the pose I want and then I make two negatives of that picture.

Large format portraiture is a medium that favours photographers who direct their sitters well. Film costs can soon mount up if you don’t have a plan. You can’t shoot away hoping for a bit of magic or that lucky shot. You have to make your own magic. Having a shot list is a great way to make sure you don’t overshoot or repeat things you don’t need to. I find the one set up/two shots works well for me and allows me to cover a lot of ground without spending £100’s on film and processing every shoot.

Make Conversation as you make your portraits.

Making large format portraits is a leisurely process. Setting up can be slow, so it’s really important that you keep your subject at their ease, and being a able to chat away while you set up the camera is an important and underrated skill. Using a view camera can help as it is a real conversation piece. When I have approached people to take their photo I find that the vast majority are interested in the camera, and interested to know about the process. So it’s easy to keep them engaged, and to prepare the camera at the same time. 

Use a  Posing Stool for Headshots.

Slim depth of field is your greatest enemy and your greatest ally in large format photography. For any type of close up portrait, it is imperative that your subject stays in the same plane of focus, from composing on the ground glass to loading the darkslide and tripping the shutter. I have found that a tall stool is the simplest way of keeping things steady. People sway when they are standing, and it only takes a movement of a few centimetres to ruin your shot. A stool solves this problem easily, and makes life more comfortable for your sitter.

Stop down your lens.

As mentioned above, large format lenses wide open have razor thin depth of field. F5.6 equates to f1.2 in full-frame digital. While portraits shot wide open can look stunning, they can be very hard to pull off consistently when you start out. They can also be very tough on your sitter. It makes more sense to start out at more conservative apertures and build you skill level.

For environmental portraits widest aperture I will shoot at is F11, and given the choice I’ll shoot at F22. There are several reasons why I do this. The main one is that people can move slightly between when when you focus on the ground glass, and when you load the film and take the shot. There is no way to check focus once the film is loaded, so you have to either give yourself a bit of leeway, or accept a certain number of not *quite* in focus shots.

Even at f22 depth of field at head shot distances is 8cm. The background will still be blurred. Moreover, most large format lenses were optimised for f16-22 so by stopping down you will be using your lens as it was designed to be.

Use a fast film.

Stopping down has its side effects. We get more depth of field and lenses working at their best, but the flipside is we get slow shutter speeds and if we are using flash, we need more output. Using 400 iso film helps minimise these problems. The best fast films like HP5, Portra 400 or Tmax 400 still have minimal grain in sheet sizes, and means that you only need a quarter of light you would need shooting 100 speed film.

Take Notes.

There is no EXIF data or LCD screens with film. For that reason it is vital that you keep notes so you know what works and what doesn’t. the shutter speed and f-stop you used is the bare minimum but it is also incredibly useful to number your holders and assign them to each set up. That way you can trace what’s on your negatives for the tip below!

Shoot two copies of each shot and develop them separately.

One of the great benefits of large format is that you can process each sheet separately. When I shoot portraits I use each film holder to shoot one set up. I always try to shoot two near identical shots. I then split the shots in processing so both go into different batches. That way if there is an exposure issue I can changes the development for the second sheet, and if I make a mistake in processing I still have another go to get it right! 

Invest in a good quality Loupe.

Although it is definitely possible to start with a cheap plastic loupe, you will save money in the long run (not to mention avoid a lot of heartache) if you invest in a good quality loupe. I use an 8x nikon loupe that I bought cheaply second hand. Originally, I used a 4x Schneider loupe, but I found his wasn’t quite strong enough for critical focusing at closer distances. Cheaper plastic loupes make the whole focusing process very uncertain. I doesn’t take long for wasted film to far outstrip the cost of a decent loupe.

Be Prepared to Break these Rules.

These tips are just a starting point. Things I wish I had known when I started shooting portraits with my view camera. As you gain experience, I hope you develop the confidence to create your own rule book and you own methods. So that you can express yourself through the magical medium that is film.

Tobias Key is a professional Wedding, Portrait and Commercial Photographer working in West Sussex. 

Follow me on instagram to see my latest work

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Portrait Photography Tips – Stop down for the close up!

If you are shooting a full length portrait, you can afford to open up the aperture, as the distance from your sitter will mean you still have reasonable depth of field

Portrait photography is probably the most practised photographic discipline. One of the most common portrait photograhy tips given to beginners in portrait photography is to shoot with a long lens and shoot it wide open, or at least close to wide open. You only have to look at the growth in choice of fast prime lenses to realise that this advice has well and truly taken hold in the digital era.

portrait photographer West Sussex

This portrait was shot at f22 on a large format camera, which is equivalent to f8 with full frame digital. The extra depth of field allows both eyes to be in focus, but the background is still blurred. As the lens is also close to it’s optimum aperture the image really pops and comes to life.

Headshots – the agony of the near miss!

Like almost every photographer, I went through a phase of shooting wide open or very close to it. Although I used to get very nice shots, I also got a lot of near misses. Close up at f2.8 with a portrait lens, depth of field is razor thin. If the eyeball is in focus, the tips of the eyelashes would be blurred. There are few things more frustrating in photography than thinking you have the perfect shot just to find it is just a touch off when you review it on the monitor at home.

We don’t think of portraits as action shots, but no sitter is ever really still, and if you are hand-holding the camera neither are you. People sway slightly when they are standing and it is there relatively tiny movements that can wreck a shot if you shoot close-up and wide open.

If you are shooting a head shot, even a quite a conservative aperture has little depth of field. If you shoot a 85mm at 1.5 metres (a generous head and shoulders framing) at F5.6 the depth of field is is 10cm. Enough for the nose, the eyes and the ears to be in focus, but no more than that. The background will still be blurred, but you have a bit of leeway if the subject moves a little. You can also afford to be a bit more spontaneous, as you don’t have to refocus with every tiny movement.

It is a lot easier to get the shot, but the overall effect is not hugely different.

Close down as you close up.

Distance to subject and aperture are the two major factors that control depth of field.  If you were on a shoot and were shooting half body shots at F2.8 (85mm lens) and then closed in to shoot heads without adjusting your aperture, your depth of field would drop from 20cm to 2cm!! Generally speaking it always makes sense to close down your aperture as you get closer unless you are going for a specific look. Think of distance and f-stop in the same way as you think of  shutter speed and aperture for exposure, change one and you should at least consider changing the other.

 

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George and Leah’s Wedding, Upwaltham Barns.

 

gl1003

George and Leah got married right in the middle of last summer’s heatwave at Upwaltham Barns, right in the heart of the beautiful South Downs. I know how hard it can be to shoot in very hot weather, so my camera bag was weighed down as much by water bottles as it was by lenses. I liberally applied sunblock as well, as it is very easy to get burnt to a crisp without even realising it on days like this as I have learnt to my cost in the past. There is nothing worse than shooting groups, you start to feel that you are getting burnt, and there is nothing you can do about it!

Upwaltham Barns Wedding

I was particularly lucky at this wedding that I got an opportunity to shoot with George and Leah as the evening light  drew in and we got some really beautiful shots. One of the biggest challenges for a wedding photographer is dealing with available light, whether it is a gloomy Saxon church or shooting groups in the middle of the day. I have my tricks and things I’ve picked up over the years that help make the best of any situation, but a photographer has no greater ally than good light, and no light is better than the golden sunshine of a summer’s evening.

Upwa;ltham Barns Wedding

 

 

 

 

 

Ihave worked at Upwaltham Barns many times

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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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Portrait in the Sussex Downs

Portrait Chichester

I was asked by a new magazine to supply this image for an article they were doing on country fashion. It is a photo I made a while back for a local fashion designer, but after negotiating a fee and digging the image out from one of my many archived hard drives I set about giving it a fresh bit of retouching and sent it off to the magazine. Which then promptly told me they weren’t going to launch after all…

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Portrait of Jessie, Chichester

Portrait photography by Tobias Key

Jessie, Photographed in Chichester

 

Jessie is an actress with a passion for all things vintage who asked to shoot with me at the end of last year. We shot at a few of the more picturesque spots in Chichester, but I really liked this image which was shot in a little track behind some houses near me. Jessie had great poise and was great to photograph, and the location adds a sense of depth to the image which is something I always look for in a photograph. There is something very compelling about the illusion of 3d and I think it is something that is in a lot of my more successful images. I like large format photography because this effect seems to be stronger in larger formats, and coupled with the sense of occasion your sitters feel when confronted with a very large camera, it is a great recipe for compelling images.

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Portrait of Catrina, Chichester.

Portrait Photography by Tobias Key

Portrait of Catrina Rose, shot in Chichester

 

This was the first large format image I made after the terrible weather we had at the beginning of the year, so even though there isn’t any new leaves sprouting it feels like my ‘Spring’ photo. One of the things that’s very limiting about large format photography is that the camera is very hard to keep still in windy weather, even on a tripod. The process is also not very waterproof, so unless you can put up a makeshift shelter, wind and rain pretty much stop play with this camera. It does make you value fine days a bit more, and there are plenty of large format photographers devising new and ingenious ways to keep their cameras dry and still. This image was shot in Brandy Hole Lane woods, and the coppiced trees give the area a particular look that I really like. This is one of those photos that is not what I’d call an ‘internet’ picture.  It doesn’t work well as a thumbnail, so doesn’t encourage clicks on social media. I still like it though 🙂

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Portrait of Kitty, Shot in Brighton.

Kitty. Portrait by Tobias Key.

Kitty, Brighton. Shot on film with a large format camera.

This image is part of an ongoing series I have been working on as part of a personal project. I shoot these images on a large format camera which takes sheets of film 5×4 inches in sizes. It produces images with amazing resolution and depth, with a look quite different from my digital cameras. Producing images in this way is surprisingly addictive, there’s a real thrill in getting images out of a camera that is little more than a light tight box.

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