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. I am very rarely refused if I ask to take someone’s photo.
After a day shooting at the Weald and Downland, 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. I had totally the opposite experience. I think the camera had a lot to do with this, although powerful personal charisma can’t be ruled out!
Method is everything when shooting portraits.
It is important to make the portrait making process as easy as possible for your sitter. I worked by setting up my camera as much as could beforehand. So I set my exposure and zeroed the cameras tilts and shifts. I also made sure that the camera was focused to about 10ft. Even with this preparation the camera is still slow to shoot, so a mastery of small talk is often a necessity.
I tried to look for some shade and shooting in front of the wall of a building or under one of the many tent awnings. It was very busy on the day and keeping museum visitors out of the shots could be tricky. So it was important to find locations where you had a degree of control over the frame. 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. When I am happy I shoot my two sheets of film, thank them and collect their details or give them a business card so I can send an image on to them.