I took a short drive up to Compton to shoot with Rachel at her studio. Originally we were scheduled to work in the morning. However, an ominous weather forecast and threats of strong winds pushed our appointment back to lunchtime. In the end the threatened storm didn’t appear until Sunday morning. Just in time for my son’s rugby match, but that is another story. After ringing the doorbell a few times and receiving no answer I found Rachel at work in her studio in the back garden.
We’d decided to make her portrait outside of her studio, and because she is a classical painter, decided to do it in a classical style. For me, the best way to make a classic formal portrait is with a large format film camera. It has been the tool of the professional portrait photographer for well over a century. It persists into the 21st century when many other smaller format film cameras have disappered. There are still many small makers of view cameras all over the world.
Using a view camera for portrait photography emphasises the importance of planning and clear direction.
Shooting with a view camera changes your technique. Instead of looking for a split second moment or gesture, you have to look for a moment of stillness. You have to direct your sitter and actively create the picture. The major difference is you require your sitter to be totally invested in the process. It’s almost imposible to make a good photograph with an uncooperative subject. You have to work closely together. Work out everything for each shot to the finest detail and then take one or two shots of each set up. Usually, I use my digital camera to take preview images from the camera position so that I can show my client what I am working towards and check that they like it. This is actually a very efficient way of working as there are no wasted shots, almost all my film images are keepers.
People often worry about slow turnaround with film, but I do all my developing in house. This means as well as improving quality by doing everything by hand, I can devlop a batch of film in around 20 mins. I can have proofs and galleries ready in one working day.
If you would like to book your own portrait session, appointments are available seven days a week and normally last 1-2 hours.