Category Archives: Editorial Photography

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 

 

 

 

Also posted in Analogue Photography, Brighton photographer, Chichester photographer, Chichester portrait photographer, Film Photography, Hints and Tips Tagged , , , , , , |

Model Portfolio – Ben de la Fuente

Model Portfolio A Model Portfolio is a great opportunity to work with new talent.

Shooting a model portfolio is an interesting challenge. You are usually with someone who is potentially very photogenic, but you have no idea how they will be once you get them in front of the camera. Over the years I have got much better at directing people than I used to be. I don’t think there is any substitute for doing a lot of something. It’s only through experience that you can become good at putting someone at their ease. I have learned different tricks that work with different people. If all else fails there is always persistence!

Model Portfolio

Working on location can be easier for new models

I am very fortunate that there are many beautiful locations close to me. Ben met me down on West Wittering beach. Working on location with new models is preferable as it is less imposing that working in the confined space of the studio. New models can often freeze when you use studio flash to photograph them. It is better to photograph them in natural light as shooting with flash can feel more constrictive, especially if the lights are close.

I usually shoot model portfolio at a leisurely pace, usually spending a couple of hours with the client. I find new models need a bit of time to relax. If I see things that are wrong I like to slowly guide someone into doing things differently, not criticise from the get go. Positivity is the only way you can help someone who is not used to being photographed. It is an exercise in building confidence and trust and working from there. The shoot should end on a high, not dwindle through lack of ideas or progress.

I really liked working with Ben and it was great to see him grow in confidence as the shoot went on.

Toby

If you would like to see more of this type of work go to my commercial photography page

 or if you’d like to book a shoot yourself please get in touch

 

Model Portfolio

 

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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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Also posted in advice for new photographers, Analogue Photography, Brighton portrait photographer, Chichester portrait photographer, Film Photography, Large Format Photography Tagged , , , , , , , , |

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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