Large Format Portraits : LUSENET : Large format photography : One Thread

I am doing large format portraiture and I realize my pictures aren't very good. I know what large format is good for. However my posed environmental pictures of people are 4x5 snapshots. I know most of the LF portrait history. I just need your thoughts on how you improved your work(formally and conceptually). I work at it enough but I just need opinions.

-- David Payumo (, November 16, 2001


it would be very helpful to see what you have done in order to provide opinions on it. who knows, maybe your opinion of your own work might be wrong!!!! Kevin

-- Kevin Kolosky (, November 16, 2001.

I've been doing the same thing for a little over a year now with some good results. My idea was to start by emulating, in some sort of acceptably contemporary terms, the best of the portrait work of the great era of large format portrait photography, i.e., from 1850s (to include Nadar) through the 1920s (to include Stieglitz series of O'Keefe). So, first of all, I got an Imagon lens (as noted in a recent thread, the Kodak Portrait and the Wollensak Verito are also excellent choices -- I have a lot of info on the old portrait lenses if you want me to send it separately). I stay with straightforward sitting (see Nadar). Usually, and in accordance with a suggestion of Ansel Adams (of all people), I urge the sitter in one way or another simply to compose -- relax -- their faces to the greatest degree possible (close your eyes; relax your jaw; now relax your mouth; now relax your brow; etc.; now open your eyes...). I have them look at the lens. I sit people in my little "studio" w/ plain backgrounds (from jet black to bright white) and try to keep the lighting simple. There are a million other things, but maybe this will give you an idea of what one other newcomer has been doing. As I say, I've gotten some good results -- also a lot of junk, the usual culprit being botched lighting.... -jeff buckels (albuquerque nm)

-- Jeff Buckels (, November 16, 2001.

hi david - i really can't comment on your work since i haven't seen it ... but i can give you a few suggestions ... like jeff b. i too try to study and learn from portraits from the 1850s - 1920s. scour "junk stores" and other places for portrait photographs and eventually you will get a collection that you can refer to and use as "studies". it is really pretty helpful, and you can pick up some images for about $1 each. good luck! john

-- john nanian (, November 16, 2001.

Dear David

Sinar has a series of four books under Creative Large Format and their People Photography book might be of help. Regardless of which camera you use to shoot the images, this gives some tips and examples that are most interesting.

I, too, am trying to make all of my photos look to be more than merely snapshots. One of the things I am trying is to have the face in focus and through tilts and swings and depth of field, have other portions of the photo in lesser focus. Also, I find that sometimes going to a Polaroid transfer gives me the 'artistic' view I seek.

Good shooting and best of luck


John Bailey

-- John Bailey (, November 16, 2001.

Look at Arnold Newmans's body of work. If possible take aworkshop from him. I think he is doing a weekend workshop with the Palm beach Workshops in Florida sometime this coming spring.

-- Ellis Vener Photography (, November 16, 2001.

I do LF (4x5) portraiture on occasion. I've been exceedingly happy with the results, both technicaly and artistically. LF and people just seem to be a match made in heaven, at least to me.

Because of nature of the view camera, I set up to include more scene than I need, and plan on cropping while printing. I prefocus & lock down based on a fixed location for the person. Stop down reasonably so depth of field handles any minor subject movement. When shooting, I just concentrate on seeing with my eyes and don't try to do any touch up on the ground glass, since that takes too much time.

For indoor shots, a little extended development helps (N+1), while outdoors in soft light, Normal development seems the best.

You say your pictures aren't very good--in what ways are you unhappy with the results?

-- Charlie Strack (, November 16, 2001.

Lighting and posing for portraits are elaborate, distinct, and complicated skills within the craft of photography. I have attended long workshops on lighting and posing where the photographic process is rarely mentioned. Outdoor portraits that don't look like anyone's snaps are especially difficult because you have less control of the lighting than in the studio. Lighting and posing techniques are best learned from skilled instructors who will show you how they blend with one another to make a portrait with impact. The Professional Photographers of America used to offer regular workshops in portraiture around the county and I believe Shutterbug has monthly listings for workshops. Monte Zucker, a regular writer for Shutterbug, is about as good as they come if he still gives instruction.

-- C. W. Dean (, November 16, 2001.

Hi David, are you doing B&W or color? And are you using studio or natural lighting? By snapshot, do you mean hand held? Best, David

-- david clark (, November 16, 2001.

The best thing about you is that you're trying and you obviously care about the thing you are doing, regardless of how things now are turning out. I don't know if my suggestions are an option for you timewise but here are a few thoughts.

If you've hit a 'brick wall', one option might be for you to distance yourself some from what're doing. Put the cameras down for awhile, recharge your batteries, go to the park, the beach, watch some kids play, look at life with having to 'come up with the shot'. Take some time off, which sometimes works when nothing else does.

You seem to have the capacity to be brutally honest about your work which is a strength, but why not just put those pictures away for a while, and take some time to clear your head.

Take in some workshops, read some Artbooks, watch some movies, take 'em all in and then take a while off to let it all 'soak in'.

Somethings not working with you going down the road you're going, it's time for you to take some time to rethink some things and then decide whether you want to continue down this road, or take another one.

The day might come along when you'll be plodding along shooting whatever you're shooting and a light will go on in your head and you'll have an awakening and your work will show it.

-- Jonathan Brewer (, November 16, 2001.

I realize this response is a bit late but I have just been browsing the archives and found this thread. I have been going through a similar process over the last year or so beginning with 4x5 and moving up to 8x10. I have a small home studio with strobes and a seamless background. I use only single color papers (black, white, sky blue).

I began by finding a cheap and patient model. Our teenage babysitter agreed to sit for me at babysitter rates. She was flattered to be a model and found it easier than chasing after my kids -:). I also shot a lot of 4x5 Polaroids (mostly type 54).

I also spend a lot of time studying portrait books from the public library, especially Karsh. Other favorites are Herb Ritts, Richard Avedon, Annie Leibowitz, and Arnold Newman.

I often return to the same book, checking for how a particular aspect is handled. For example, I recently began to deal with the problem of exaggeration of features that are closer to the camera. I first noticed this when I photographed a young girl sitting on a stool facing the camera with her hands on her knees. The hands seemed too large in relation to her torso and face. With the view camera we can easily fix that with some rear tilt.

I noticed a similar problem when photographing a large woman sitting in a chair with her body facing camera left and face turned toward the camera. Her left shoulder was closest to the camera, and because of its naturally large size as well as proximity to the lens, it just loomed too large in relation to the face. A bit of rear swing took care of it.

After doing a couple of these perspective corrections I returned to the Karsh books and began looking at all of his shots that must have had similar issues to see how he dealt with them.

I strongly recommend using flat lighting while working on the posing and shooting aspects. Also, try to have enough light to stop way down so you don't have depth of field issues. DOF can be *very* shallow with LF at portrait distances. Minor subject movement can move focus from the eyes to the ears and ruin the shoot. Don't fiddle with too many variables at once.

I also suggest working with very patient subjects to begin with. I start by explaining to the subject about the view camera and how it is different from a 'normal' camera. I also explain how once we find a comfortable pose that they will need to stay still for 'a moment' while I load the film holder and shoot the picture.

In my most recent sessions, I begin by shooting some MF Polaroids to check lighting, check pose, help the subject become accustomed to the strobe flashes, and to give them an idea of what they will look like in the setting. Sometimes I will also shoot a roll of MF so that they will also have some 'snapshots'.

Once all is set and the subject is comfortable I shoot an 8x10 Polaroid (usually 804). The reaction to that is usually a big 'wow' and then I tell them they can take it home. That usually convinces them of the value of LF. I then explain that I also want to shoot some 'real' film and I do some negs (TMAX 100) and maybe trannies (Provia or E100S). After seeing the Polaroid they understand the beauty of the format and are usually happy to sit for a bit longer to do the negs.

Very often I will talk with the subject or joke a bit when getting ready to shoot (film loaded) and press the shutter release when a nice candid look appears such as a laugh or an unposed expression. I have had some wonderful results with that technique, especially with kids.

Most of all, you will need to be patient. LF portraits are an art like any other and your technique will continue to evolve as you shoot more and study the work of others.

-- Peter Shier (, April 03, 2002.

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