Focusing technique for portrait photography : LUSENET : Large format photography : One Thread

I was wondering if anyone could share their techniques for maintaining focus on portrait subjects after focusing is achieved on the ground glass.I am currently using a Caltar 210mm lens stopped down to F16 or F22. It seems my subject moves slightly after I set the aperture and install the flim back. I only succeeded in only getting only 1 out of 3 shot that was tack sharp. Thanks in advance

-- Belden L. Fodran (, April 09, 1999


in the links part of, there is a DOF calculator site, and if you go to that site, you can put your lens data in and the calculator will compute your dept of field for various f stops and other parameters. i think the answer to your question might be found therein.

-- david clark (, April 09, 1999.

One method that works is to set up a slide projector which puts out a small slit of light that hits your subject on one spot on the side of the head. You focus on the subject & note where the beam of light falls on the side of the head & make sure you have it in place when you shoot the portrait. If you project the small light where it won't show on film, no problem. If you use it where the camera can see it you will need more lighting on the subject to overpower it so it won't show on film.

-- Dan Smith (, April 10, 1999.

I use a Linhof Teknika and find that the rangefinder is very handy for making a last minute focus check.

-- Tony Brent (, April 10, 1999.

Tape on the floor if they are standing.

-- Ellis Vener (, April 11, 1999.

Tape on the floor if they are standing. Any sort of visual cue for the sitter.

-- Ellis Vener (, April 11, 1999.

Are you shooting head and shoulders, or full length? Where is your initial focus point???

Best to focus on the eyes (pupils). Stopping down will render approx 1/3 in front and 2/3 behind. If you are shooting close up heads and they are still moving too need to consider using a posing bench with arm rest to help your subject stay more stationary. If you are shooting 2/3's or full lengths; switch to a shorter lens. This will give you more depth of field for any given f stop. It will also allow you to keep a similar camera to subject distance.

-- C Matter (, April 12, 1999.

I suggest a short, friendly lecture before the sitting about the realities of view camera photography, specifically that they have to HOLD STILL after the lens is closed and the film is placed into the camera. Most people have never been photographed with anything but a P&S.

For consistently sharp head & shoulder portraits I feel that a medium format SLR is better than a view camera. I use a Hassy with a 150mm Sonnar. The increased grain is more than offset by the razor sharpness of such a system.

-- Peter Hughes (, April 16, 1999.

Use a different camera. It is much easier on you and your subject. Most portrait photographers I know use a MF camera for portraits.

-- james (, July 08, 1999.

Focus and tie a piece of string (with not too much elasticity to it) to the camera. Stretch the string until it touches the subject's nose and mark the string at that point. Close down the lens, insert the film holder & so on. Just before you shoot stretch the sting back to the subject's nose and get them to move forward or backward as needed. It ain't rocket science but it should do the job.

-- David Grandy (, July 12, 1999.

I use a 210 Apo Schneider lens on my 4x5 for my portraits. At a distance of 5 feet, my dof is about a foot at f22!! Check out for dof charts, they'll help you keep things in perspective. If I'm in the studio, the Calumet 2400 watt/sec power packs is cranked up all the way when I'm using the 3x4ft softbox at 4 feet. At home I can get the same results from my 500 watt/sec Photogenic monolight with a 60" silver umbrella placed about two feet from my subject. At that distance it's pretty much a head and shoulder shot which pretty much fills the 4x5,there's no sense in using a large negative if your planning on using all of it. I also use my 6x7 horseman back at ten feet, this buys me a little more dof and also fills the (6x7) frame. I would suggest you find a comfortable way keeping your subject still while you focus, load and shoot.

I've never met anyone not taken back by the life like images acheived by using my 4x5 for portraits. Black and white images don't hold up well when you go beyond 5-6x, so it's easy to see why a 4x enlargement look as good as it does, a 16x20 head and shoulder shot is an amazing thing. So do whatever it takes to keep your subjects still and comfortable because you'll be highly rewarded for your efforts. Your clients, friends, and family will quickly forget any discomforts experienced when they gasp at those outragoeus prints. Regards, Albert

I try to minimize movement by providing a comfortable setting for the person being photographed. A comfortable chair and posing table really help keep movements down, it usually buys me enough time to focus and load while providing minimal discomforts to the person being photographed.

-- Albert Martinez (, June 06, 2001.

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