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Portrait of Ella Rose in the sand dunes on 4x5

When Ella and I arranged this shoot, I had checked the weather and the forecast was for bright, overcast day. Perfect weather for photography. So of course the day came and we had perhaps the brightest and hottest September day I could remember!

Shooting large format film is expensive. So much so that I never really want to shoot unless I know I will get good results. Every shot counts. The counter argument to this is that in the professional world we can’t always choose when we shoot. Or indeed where or who we shoot. You have to make the best of the conditions you have.

If I am to work in bright sunlight in the middle of the day I try to shoot towards the sun. It is high enough that I don’t need to worry about flare, and that puts faces into the shade where the light is most flattering.

Sand dunes portrait

I have found that if I meter off the face and open up one stop. That gives me a good flexible negative. For this shoot I used HP5+ which is nominally a 400 ISO film, but I rate it at 250 ISO. For this shot I got a reading of 1/60 at f16. This might seem like gross overexposure, you might normally expect to expose HP5+ at 1/500 at f16 in these conditions. However, my main concern is to have a good tonality in the key areas of the image. In this case is that the open shadows. Such is the flexibility of HP5+ that the brighter areas of the negative scanned easily with plenty of detail.

Portrait in the shade with a 4x5 camera

After a short break we moved to another nearby location which had more shade. I always try to vary my shoots as much as I can, not least because it gives more material for social media. In this case we switched to another location a short drive away. The light was quite different here which certainly changed the mood of the images.

When we wrapped up I went home and developed my shots. I do all my own processing now and tend to use dilute development as I think it holds back the highlights a little. At the moment I am using Ilford DD-X diluted 1+9 and I am loving the results so far.

The other thing I like to do after a beach shoot is empty my bag, vacuum it out and check all my equipment for any traces of sand. This was a very still day so luckily I didn’t have any problems. But with most of my equipment being quite rare now the last thing I want to do is damage it.

Portrait with a large format camera

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