Tag Archives: hints and tips

A Beginner’s Guide to the Large Format Film Camera.

_MG_7978Part One: Getting Started

Large format cameras are often thought of as difficult to operate, but there is nothing impossible about using them. If you are organised and methodical they are straightforward, if not exactly simple to use. Many photographers find the idea of using a large format camera daunting because we are all so used to having so much automation in our cameras. Compare a large format camera to a ‘manual’ 35mm film camera and you will soon see that there is a whole new level to manual when you move up to the largest formats. Most large format cameras are literally no more that an adjustable light tight box with film at one end and a lens at the other. There is no metering, nothing is battery powered. The only thing powering the camera is the clockwork shutter.  Despite this, working with these big old beasts is perhaps one of the most satisfying experiences a photographer can have. When I use my camera I feel a real connection to the history of photography and take great pride in being able to produce amazing images without any help from automation. This is ‘pure’ photography.

If you have ever toyed with idea of using a large format camera, or have just bought a camera and haven’t used it yet then this guide is for you.

What is Large Format?

Large format is generally considered to start at 4×5 inch sheet film. as the name suggests film comes as individual sheets that have to be loaded into holders. A process that would be be familiar to photographers 100 years ago. Large format film gives you two main advantages: The quality is unsurpassed, with images approaching or surpassing the equivalent of 100mp, and because you shoot single sheets, each sheet can be developed differently to suit the lighting situation you find yourself in. There are lots of sizes of sheet film some historical, like whole, half and quarter plate, others still available today like 4×5, 5×7 and 10×8. Of these 4×5 is by far the most widely available, and has the most options in terms of film type. Colour negative, colour slide and black and white film are all available, although the choices in colour are a little thin.

Taking your first Photograph

Unlike smaller formats there is quite a lot of equipment you need beyond a camera and some film to successfully make a large format photograph. The good news is that most experienced photographers will already own a lot of it, and things like dark cloths can be improvised from things around the house. With care you can put together all the equipment you need for a relatively modest initial outlay, and many of the things you need can be bought second hand and sold for the same money you paid for them.

Equipment Needed

Large Format Camera

Toyo Large Format Camera

This is a monorail. Cheap ,versatile and solid but heavy. A good choice for portraits and the studio.

To get started you should pick a 4×5 camera. The other two common sizes are 5×7 and 10×8 but it is more expensive, the equipment can be much more difficult to find, and film supply can also be an issue. There are lots of different choices from expensive, beautifully crafted field cameras to old studio monorails you can pick up for a couple of hundred pounds. Light weight is the thing that tends to cost money, and traditional wooden field cameras go for more than monorails. Monorails are often the better and more versatile cameras, it is just that you might give yourself a hernia lugging one into the wilderness. They are also not as pretty as field cameras and I’m sure that has an impact! I am primarily a portrait photographer so I use a monorail, mainly because they focus more closely (i.e. have longer bellows) and are easier to use once set up. Make sure the camera locks down properly and the bellows are light tight (shining a torch inside the bellows in a dark room is an easy way to check). Check as well the camera has enough movements to suit what you will be use it for (this is a complicated subject but their is plenty of information online).

Lens boards

One of the great advantages of large format is that lenses are pretty much interchangeable between any camera as long as your bellows will focus them. However a lens board is needed to mount the lens. These lens boards are simply a flat piece of wood or metal with a hole drilled in them to mount the lens. They tend to be specific to the brand of camera, and come in three main sizes Copal 0, Copal 1 and Copal 3. The common types are Linhof for field cameras and Sinar for monorails which are both copied across various makes and brands, although Toyo boards are pretty easy to find too. Some cheaper second hand cameras use difficult to find lens boards (hence why they are cheap). If you are looking to buy one of these make sure it comes with the lens boards you need to suit your needs, or the design of the board is simple enough that you can make your own.

Lenses

Generally almost all relatively modern lenses are good. As your first lens, I would recommend going for something in a modern Copal shutter from one of the main manufacturers – Schneider, Rodenstock, Fuji or Nikon. Your first priority should be putting together a reliable system, so that initial mistakes are easier to diagnose. Something like a lens with an unreliable shutter will cause you endless grief if you are not already confident in your skills as a large format photographer.  Standard Lenses are around the 150mm mark, but if you are getting into large format I will assume you are experienced enough to know which type of lens you want. Just multiply the focal length of your 35mm lens by three to get its large format equivalent.

Tripod

Virtually all large format cameras need to be placed on a tripod to be useable. This is not an area to scrimp on, as a wobbly tripod will cause you endless frustration with blurry shots. As potential resolution goes up, the more meticulous you have to be. Make sure the tripod you choose is strong enough and tall enough for the camera you choose. One good thing is no one wants humungous heavy tripods anymore, so they can be found second hand quite cheaply. Carbon Fibre is the Rolls-Royce option and very light and stiff, but there have been reports of these tripods blowing over in windy conditions when they have a field camera on them with the bellows extended. The bellows act like a sail turning your expensive wooden camera into firewood!

Light Meter

This light meter works as both a spotmeter and incident meter.

This light meter works as both a spotmeter and incident meter.

Most experienced large format photographers will use a hand held meter for establishing exposure, either a spot meter or incident meter depending on what they like to shoot. However you can just as easily use a DSLR and transfer the reading to you large format camera or get a light meter app on your smartphone. A DSLR is probably the best method when you are starting out as it allows you to ‘polaroid’ your large format exposure before you expose a sheet of precious film. You will probably find it better to overexpose the film slightly compared to the DSLR reading, but again I will assume you have some passing familiarity with shooting with film, so I’m sure you have your own preference.

Film Holders

Large Format Film holder

Check film holders have good seals and the dark slide is not cracked.

 

Essentially a light tight box that carries two sheets of film. You can usually pick these up second hand for about £10-20 each, make sure they are light and in good condition, otherwise you get fogged film, which is expensive and frustrating at this level of photography. If you are starting out you will find that 5-10 holders is enough. Modern holders are made of plastic and are pretty bullet proof, some older holders (40 years+) are made of wood and can warp with age, so be careful of this.

Film

There is still a decent choice of film available, the only downside is colour is significantly more expensive than black and white. In the UK black and white film is about £35-£40 for 25 sheets of black and white or £50 for 10 sheets of colour film. To start off with I would recommend Kodak or Ilford 400iso black and white film, as it gives you a bit more flexibility with shutter speeds and f-stops which will help you get sharp pictures when you start. Film and developing is the most expensive part of the process, but remember if you get everything right you can produce images that could only otherwise be achieved with a medium format digital back. A system like that will set you back five figures.

A Changing bag or Darkroom

Film needs to be loaded into the holders in complete darkness. The easiest way to do this if you don’t have access to a darkroom is to purchase a pop-up dark tent, they are about 3ft cubed which is enough space to load film relatively easily on a table in daylight.

Cable Release

Large Format Cable Release

The cable release attaches to the shutter to ensure you don’t vibrate the camera during exposure

 

A cable that attaches to the shutter mechanism so you can trip the shutter without moving the camera. These are relatively cheap to buy, that main thing to watch for is to make sure the release is long enough so you can stand away from the camera. You can also use your body as a shield to shelter the camera in windy conditions.

A Loupe or Magnifier

This is something you can spend anything between £5 and £200 on! Most popular when starting off are the 8x Agfa or Kaiser slide loupes that can be bought cheaply and will do the job.

A Dark Cloth

Without a dark cloth it is nearly impossible to see the focusing screen in bright conditions. If you don’t want to go to the expense you can use the double T-shirt method. Just put a black T-shirt inside a lighter colour one and use the neck of the shirt to fit around the focusing screen.

A Notebook

It is important to take notes when shooting with a large format camera. You don’t have metadata with every exposure, and it is a lot easier to make mistakes. Make sure you write down your exposure, film type and speed rating, and number your dark slides so that if you have a light leak you know where it came from!

The Wrap Up

Large format cameras probably offer the most bang per buck than any camera system. With a bit of ingenuity, you can put together a 100mp+ camera system for well under £1000, and be able to re-sell it for what you paid for it. It can also produce images that have a unique look that you can’t replicate with digital, and teach you skills that can be applied to produce excellent results in any other camera system.

My Adventure with Large Format Photography

I have been shooting with my large format camera for about 4 years. I saw a camera in a vintage camera shop and just fancied giving it a go. I mainly shoot portraits. Follow the link to see examples of my vintage girls portrait project . There is something inspiring in using methods that Victorian photographers would be pretty familiar with. In the age of digital photography I don’t think we care enough about the long history of film photography or the pleasure and satisfaction learning and using those skills gives us. I like to do my little bit to keep these skills alive. My main work in photography is as a wedding photographer and I can shoot 000’s of images in a day, so large format photography is a great way for me to separate the photos I take for my career and those I shoot for fun.

Toby

Tobias Key Photography

 

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Posted in advice for new photographers, Analogue Photography, Brighton photographer, Brighton portrait photographer, Film Photography, Hints and Tips, Large Format Photography Also tagged , |

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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Posted in Brighon portrait photographer, Chichester photographer, Chichester portrait photographer, child portrait, Customer information, Uncategorized Also tagged , , |

I need a wedding photographer – but I don’t like having my picture taken!

There's no point hiding behind that flower. At some point I'm going to have to take your photo

There’s no point hiding behind that flower. At some point I’m going to have to take your photo

It may seem surprising, but for many of  the couples I work with, at least one of them will be nervous about having their picture taken. One of my main jobs as a wedding photographer is putting people at their ease, or at least making them a bit less nervous! You can have all the photography skills in the world, but when you’re working with people, especially people who may not of worked with a professional photographer before, interpersonal skills are even more important. Building a good relationship with my clients is essential to building trust, and if the people I working with trust me to do a good job, it will help them to relax.

If you are getting married soon these are my top tips if you are nervous  about being photographed.

Enjoy your Day

The simplest and best tip of all. You’ll love your wedding day and that joy will be written all over your face. Every couple I’ve photographed has had this particular glow about them, a combination of happiness and excitement that photographs really well. Your wedding is not just another day and the photos you receive will reflect that.

Most of the Time you Won’t even Know you’re being Photographed.

Most of the pictures I shoot at a wedding are not posed pictures. Most of the time while I’m taking pictures while you’re doing something else, little things like declaring you wedding vows or walking down the aisle!  A lot of the time you are not even aware of being photographed, so the photos are natural . These photos are also more ‘real’. nervous grooms look nervous, emotional mums cry and children try to take it all in. The fact that I’m telling a story rather than trying to create too many posed images means there’s less onus on the bride and groom to pull a happy face and pose for the camera. It’s a win-win. You get to enjoy your wedding day and get great pictures in the process.

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You are Going to Look your Absolute Best.

Remember that this isn’t just another day. Everyone is going to be dressed to the nines, hairdressers and make make up artists are going to polish you to perfection. You are going to look fantastic. On a day when you are going to look so great it isn’t it important to have a record of it? That’s what your photographer is there for.

Your Photographer is there to Help you.

As a wedding photographer, people tell me that they are nervous about being photographed all the time. Many couples will have never hired a professional photographer before, so don’t realise that being photographed by a professional photographer is very different to being photographed by friends or family. A professional photographer will know how to help you look your best and will offer advice and help where needed. Professional photographers tend to use telephoto lenses for portraits too so they’ll be further away which will help you feel more comfortable. I have photographed people of all shapes, ages and sizes, so very little throws me and I have plenty of experience of making all sorts of different people look their best. Unlike an amateur, I’ll be familiar with my local venues and where the best photo opportunities are. I have literally hundreds of weddings under my belt. I am here to help. If you have a side you prefer being photographed from or a feature you’d like minimised just tell me and I’ll oblige. Woken up with a spot or blemish on the big day? That’s what Photoshop is for.

Make sure you get a shoot before your wedding day

Preparation is key. That is why I always like to shoot with my couples before their wedding day. It can be an engagement shoot or a pre-wedding meeting at your venue, but I always like to photograph couples before their wedding day. That’s where I get a sense of how they are in front of the camera, and what I have to do to make you look you best. There is a time for coaching couples how to be photographed and that time is not your wedding day. By arranging a separate date with no time pressure, I can show couples how to stand, what to do with their hands and all the other things that turn an awkward photo into a great one. It also helps couples because by working with me beforehand they can see what I can do to make them look great, so they’ll trust me to do a good job on the day. They’ll relax a little bit more and worry a little less. That in itself makes the pictures better.

 

With a little planning and a bit of practice there is no reason why even the most photo-phobic bride or groom can’t have brilliant photos of their wedding day. The main thing is to communicate those fears to your photographer so he can help you. There are lots of things he can do to make your experience less stressful, and help you look your best. Remember photographers need great photos for their portfolios as much as you want them for your wedding album, so they’ll always be happy to help.

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