8x10 system for contact printing portraiture

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I'm considering moving to 8x10 in order to make contact prints from head and shoulder portraits. I don't envision much work in landscapes or architecture. What things should I be considering regarding technique and equipment? What circle of confusion is appropriate for use in the DOF calculations? What subject to camera distance will be normal for lifesize to 1/4 lifesize shots? Specific equipment recommendations are also encouraged. A Wisner seems like a great camera, but it probably overkill for my application.

-- Chris Hawkins (peace@clover.net), August 15, 1999


Richard Avedon's portraits in 'In the American West' were taken in the field with an 8X10 Deardorff and a 360 mm lens. You may find the discussion in a recent thread of interest: (look under the heading 'uncategorized' threads- Avedon's portraits- what lens??).

-- Mark Nowaczynski (archivalprints@home.com), August 15, 1999.

Avedon's "In the American West" is now about 20 years old.

-- Ellis Vener (evphoto@insync.net), August 16, 1999.

The classic time for this method are the early years of this century. In particular you may be interested in looking at early movie star portraits often done with 8X10. Dramatic poses, and surprising focusing and depth of field techniques were the rule. Margaret Cameron's classic portraits from the last century may also spark your imagination and technique. Do not overlook Stieglitz photos of O'Keefe. You will be embarking upon one of the most creative and powerful types of photography. There is nothing in photography more telling than the character revealing 8x10 contact. You will be moving among giants. The best of luck to you.

-- jim Ryder (jimryder12@aol.com), August 16, 1999.

As far as the technical questions, I think you will find this area trecherous. For instance, you may find you want a less sharp lens. Modern coated glass renders faces with too much detail and sharpness, every pore and blemish can show up and it can be disturbing to sitters and customers. You may want to consider vintage glass, perhaps even a soft focus lens. You will almost certainly want a long focus lens, anything less will lead to apparent distortion. I don't think any camera will be overkill. In fact I would look for the camera with the most movement and a lens with the most coverage available. It is these very subtle technical considerations and your skill and practice in exploiting them that will make the format worth the effort. Each sitter will demand a different approach, from straight on to dramatic, selective focus, poses, and the camera's ability to deliver in terms of movements and focus will be crucial. The classic photographers were excellent technicians who knew what they could do and did it quickly to avoid trying the patience of their sitters. Exposure and lighting are crucial, and I would think a polaroid test print in a smaller format would be very useful. Printing technique will be a challenge as well. Azo the classic contact paper is very cold for portraits but may work for you. Lately, I have been looking for a book on large format portraiture with no luck. There may be something out there or perhaps something in a Large Format magazine.

-- Jim Ryder (jimryder12@aol.com), August 17, 1999.

Yes, I say, yes.

This is the Cadillac approach. I use the 360 on my Horseman and do only head and shoulder portraits. Occasionally, I pull back a little but the close ups are the best. The contact prints are simply arresting.

Have fun...

-- Bruce G. MacNeil (bruce@brucemacneil.com), April 25, 2001.

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