Portrait techniques using camera movements - methodology

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Altho strictly NOT LF, I use an old Mamiya Press with back movements and have experimented with selective focus for portraits. I was wondering if anyone has some tips for a workable methodology to prevent subject movement problems during the - focus -> fit 120 film holder -> set apeture and shutter -> pull slide -> fire - process, short of tying up the model or glueing them in place! Is the trick to get them into a position (sit, lean) that they wont naturally move from? or are there other suggestions for more dynamic poses/settings? Any help would be much appreciated.

-- Adam Poll (adamrita@iinet.net.au), June 14, 2001



The most basic method involves attaching a string to the front of the camera. Focus on the subject and stretch the string until it reaches the bridge of the subject's nose. Mark this point on the string with a small piece of tape. Insert your filmholder and adjust the remainder of your camera settings. Remove the darkslide and, just before you shoot, re-check the subject's position using the string/tape. Obviously, it also helps to seat the subject and to use relatively small apertures to improve depth of field. Hope this helps.


-- Dave Willison (dwillisart@aol.com), June 14, 2001.

I shoot portraits with 8x10", and start by making sure the subject understands the process, knows what is happening, and participates in making the image by being still when necessary. It helps to have a powerful strobe system, so you can get a bit of extra DOF by stopping down. Also, be sure to recheck the focus between frames. I've had subjects slowly migrate forward or backward, so the first few shots are fine, and the last ones might be out of focus.

-- David Goldfarb (dgoldfarb@barnard.edu), June 14, 2001.

Hi Adam, you reminded me of the time I took the woman's portrait and the only thing in focus was her umbrella handle. Well, not exactly the whole handle, just the sticker that said Goodwill. If you are without a studio like myself, just out and about, I found it helped to get a depth of field chart for my lens to get an idea for the depth of field at the various f-stops. And then I'm willing to make a lot of bad negatives for a good one because sometimes they do drift backwards or forwards when you are not aware of it. Best, David

-- david clark (doclark@yorku.ca), June 14, 2001.

Adam: Now you know why photographers switched so quickly to MF when the RB-67 and Hasseys came out. The RB really caused the switch, though. That said, there is something about a LF portrait that is worth pursueing. Both Dave and David are correct in the methods used. Do all the camera stuff before you do the final touchup of the subject's head position,etc., then check with the string. It is important to let the subject become a part of the process. Explain that you are trying to do something special for them. This obviously doesn't apply to children. Use enough light to stop down to f-11 or 16 and the depth of field will carry the focus. The old time photographers had the same problem. Many, many of the old portraits you see will have the eyes in focus and the tip of the nose out, or vice-versa. I have even seen them with the ears sharp and the eyes out of focus, so you are not facing new problems. A good strobe with lots of power should take care of the problem. The old Hollywood photographers used 1,000 to 5,000 watt spotlights for much of their photography to get depth of field. Get those lights too close and you get pictures of crispy critters. Have fun with LF portraiture. It will be worth the effort.


-- Doug Paramore (dougmary@alaweb.com), June 14, 2001.

I have done lots of 4x5 portraits in my home studio with a 210mm lens at around 5 feet. I use 2 1000ws packs and strobes and I get F32. That gives me about 12 inches of DOF. I have just started doing 8x10 portraits with a 300mm lens using the same setup and that also gives me about 12 inches DOF. With that much DOF I have also successfully done lots of young children (even some very squirmy ones).

I do explain the need to keep their general position but even the most patient and understanding person can make slight movements of the head that can throw out your focus if you don't have enough DOF. I have also done 4x5 shots with a 300mm in that setup and with only six inches DOF it is still enough but probably not with young kids.

Peter Shier

-- Peter Shier (pshier@mindspring.com), June 14, 2001.

Although it would take some work to adapt one to a Mamiya Press, Toyo makes/made a sliding back assembly for their 2x3 and 4x5 view cameras that let you to switch between the gg assembly and a rollfilm back in less than two seconds. The nice thing is that the darkslide is built into the adapter so you don't have to fiddle with that, either. Even better still is the fact that Toyo designed a version of this adapter to accept Mamiya Press backs, which presumably is what you are using, instead of the more common (these days) Graflex-style back. (I think Cambo offered one of these too and there are probably other companies that offered them as well...)

I recently bought one myself on eBay for less than $100 and there are usually one or two up for auction at any given time. I don't think I will use it very often (I shoot mostly in the field and don't like to carry any more weight than I absolutely must) but it will be handy to have around for those rare occasions when I need to compose and shoot very quickly.

-- Jeffrey Goggin (audidudi@mindspring.com), June 14, 2001.

Another aid for LF portraits is a "press" type shutter. The Copal Press shutter has two advantages: it doesn't require cocking before the exposure, and it opens to full aperture for focusing, then stops down to the preset aperture for exposure.

Wista sheet film, and sliding roll film, backs for the VX and RF incorporate a cable that links the back to a press type shutter. The shutter is automatically opened/closed when the film holder is removed/inserted (or the roll film back is moved from viewing to taking position).

With such a back, and a press shutter, the time between focus/compose and exposure can be only a few seconds.

-- Chris Ellinger (chris@ellingerphoto.com), June 14, 2001.

Hi Adam

Although I've not yet tried this myself, I seem to remember reading (possibly on this forum) that you can use a mirror to check subject position. I can't quite picture how to do this, so I'd appreciate it if someone could correctly explain the method - here's my attempt...

I think you put a mark on the side wall of the studio, say to the left of the model, and a mirror somewhere to the right. From the camera position, you should be able to see the mark reflected in the mirror. Ask your model to move into a position where their nose is just behind the mark, then focus the camera on their eyes. When you are taking the photo, you just ask them to move backward or forward until they are aligned as before.

Also, no-one's mentioned the Victorian neck/head clamp!

A couple of times, when I was photographing someone, they were so keen to see the first Polaroid, that they jumped up and came to peer over my shoulder, leaving their carefully composed position.

-- David Nash (nashcom@btinternet.com), June 14, 2001.

The reason I want to defocus on film rather than at the printing stage is that I don't want to selectively blur the grain (only 6x9 or 6x7 here)

-- Adam Poll (adamrita@iinet.net.au), June 14, 2001.

A weak light source projecting a slit of light on the side of the subjects head even with the eyes, which will not show when you pop your strobes, will do the trick as well. Even if they rock back & forth a bit you wait til they rock into position where the light shows they are at the optimum focus & shoot.

-- Dan Smith (shooter@brigham.net), June 15, 2001.

Peter, what ASA are you talking about for your studio portraits with f32 and 12 in DOF?

-- Andre Noble (andrenoble@usa.net), June 19, 2001.

100 ASA. I use Astia and TMAX 100.

-- Peter Shier (pshier@mindspring.com), June 19, 2001.

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