Black & White Portraits : LUSENET : Large format photography : One Thread

I am trying to form a business plan for 4x5, LFP B&W portraits, no nudes, just good family style work. I know this is a broad subject but I am trying to figure out just how to go about this as far as pricing, how to shoot (available light, strobes) what to offer as far as prints are concerned. I am not too concerned about materials; figuring I would use Tri-X, HC110, and fiber based papers. Also, how to relate with subjects, to relax, feel comfortable infront of the camera.

-- Rob Pietri (, January 26, 2002


Rob: You need a course of study, not an answer to a question. I am not trying to be snide, but you have asked questions with no one or two line answers. I would suggest a visit to a well equipped library and do some research. What you propose to do is a workable business proposition, but you need to do some serious study before getting into it.

Good luck with it,

-- Doug Paramore (, January 27, 2002.

Hi Rob, I've been doing something similar as a hobby. I have not found it to be as simple and straight forward as your outline would indicate. There seems to be more to it than just picking a film, a format, and a lighting system. And of course relating to the folks on the business end of the lens is a whole other thing. But then you might have the nack for success here that seems to stay at arm's reach for me. Of course you want to give them a great B&W photo of themselves that they will take pride in, but most people are educated to see themselves in the convention of the 35mm color print under formula lighting, and sometimes when they see themselves in B&W they can be rather disappointed - to say the least. And I've had some interesting effects with women regarding their makeup habits with B&W. I won't even go into stray hair. Experiment. Good luck, Daivd

-- david clark (, January 27, 2002.


While she doesn't use large format, there is a lady in Mass. named Helen Bousier who relies on her studio for her entire income and all she does in Black and White. She has published a few books on the subject. I am sure if you got ahold of a couple of her books and read them you would be helped. I believe they are published by HP Marketing, although I am not sure.


-- Kevin Kolosky (, January 27, 2002.


The answer to your last question is the fulcrum upon which rests the feasibility of your entire project. If you don't already have intuitive people skills you shouldn't even embark upon this venture.

"I am not too concerned about materials; figuring I would use Tri-X, HC110, and fiber based papers"

This should be your primary concern. It is your U.S.P., your Unique Selling Proposition that will differentiate you from your competitors. Your materials and techniques will have to be finely perfected if they are to make the arduous task of sitting for large format worthwhile in the estimation of your clientele. At normal domestic print sizes the untrained eye will be flat-out determing an appreciable difference between your output and a regular portrait studio's work on 6x7. There is an elitist factor in the marketing of your approach but that elitism will have to readily visible to the family and friends of the sitter for the porposition to work successfully.

Lighting is a variable largely dependent opon the co-operation and skills of your sitter(s). Last week I shot available portraits of an 80 year old uncle visiting from interstate. The exposure on T-Max 400 was 1second f16. He is old, he doesn't do any more moving than he absolutely has to. Sheet after sheet he is sharp as a tack and expressive. His 10 year old grandson is noticeably holding still while moving about like a leaf in the wind.

So, flash (or tungsten)! Now what do you do? Standard portrait lighting? Contextual lighting? On location you'll lose the ambience of the scene. You'll forsake the benfits of large format's unique ability to see detail in the highest highlights and deepest shadows.

All of these techniques will work admirably with 'professional' sitters (actors, models, celebrities) but it sounds to me awfully like we're talking John Doe here.

Family groups? That calls for a lot of sheets to ensure each individual is at their best. Makes a roll of 10 look mighty attractive - both sides of the camera and the darkroom door.

As regards pricing, only your accountant can help you there. Go to the accountant with a detailed list of all your fixed recurring financial outgoings - what it costs you to operate BEFORE you take a single picture - plus what the projected time and materials costs for each sitting are likely to be. You also need to indicate how many sittings per term (year, month?) you anticipate. He will determine from that information a break-even point to which will be added your profit.

My best advice is to tread warily because it seems to me that this is another case of the medium overshadowing the message. It is best to shoot large format portraits because you know that a market for large format portraits already exists - not because you wish to live out your fantasies and impose your personal preferences on your clientele.

Walter Glover

-- Walter Glover (, January 28, 2002.

Walter mentioned people skills in terms of portraits and that really comes into play if it's not an actor or actress looking for a 'headshot'. Before you do the portrait, you've got to find out if the clients expectation of the shot is realistic, and if the both of you are on the same wavelength as to what they expect, and can you honestly deliver in terms of time and budget.

A client tells you they want a 'straight photograph' without any diffusion, you better know what that really means, and it may not mean what it sounds like.

Many folks will approach you that are in a 'rush' and they will say 'incidently I don't have a lot of money, I just want something simple'. No matter what folks tell you, they want if PERFECT whether you shot it in 5 minutes or five hours, whether they paid you $30 or $300.00.

Many folks will ask you what you charge, and after telling them 'x' amount of dollars, they will ask you, 'what do I get for that', and you'll need an answer for that question.

Fair to them and fair to you is a delicate balance, but while you're setting up, you might consider a 'spread the word' price, which give folks a vote in your favor. People are going to consider you, your work, and what you charge, just like we compare Robert White and B$H which is pretty much the way of things. Good luck.

-- Jonathan Brewer (, January 28, 2002.

Walter, Johnathon, and the others

Your responses are very helpful, THANKS!

As I said, technique is not much of a concern since I am already a competant B&W technician. What is my primary concern is working with, and relating to my subject or subjects. I would think since they know they are having their portrait taken, they are already prepared somewhat with how they want to look. But I would think there is a fine line between knowing when to really step in with my own ideas and personality or let the subject do what they want. I am sure it is as complicated as the individual human personality is.

Sitting infront of a 4x5 view camera must be somewhat intimidating in itself. I was reading of one noted photographer who uses an 8x10 Wisner. Another uses 20x24 polaroid! Their images are very straight forward, simple poses, simple available lighting, and apparently they make a living at it. With that much camera staring at the subject, there cannot be too much room for variations.

-- Rob Pietri (, January 28, 2002.

Actors take 'sense memory' classes, that is they practice certain emotions, poses, looks, body language, and they 'fine tune' it, that is, they consider their body an instrument, and they practice 'dialing in' a certain look, feeling, gesture, and they can focus in on this in spite of what is going on around them.

You are absolutely right, folks who walk through the door are perfectly aware that they are going to have their portrait taken, but they do not have the 'acute awareness' or 'sense memory' of what their body is doing. A client can 'think' they are absolutely still but 'waving in the wind'.

The nervousness is going to come through to the camera if it's there, the self conciousness, and you'll have to find a way to get them to relax, there is no right way, no formula, but you get the client to trust you, relax around you, and eventually lose their fear of the equipment and circumstances.

The technique is all you, but you must bring something out in them that MAKES a portrait, and for folks who don't practice 'sense memory', you'll have to be their guide. On these folks simple lighting which is pretty much right no matter where they look, ennables you to concentrate on focus and making and keeping contact with the sitter.

-- Jonathan Brewer (, January 28, 2002.

Thanks for the feedback! So how do you figure out what will push a subjects buttons? What will turn on some, so to speak, will offend others. Is there any full proof criteria on how to spark a subjects "sense memory"?

-- Rob Pietri (narrationsnlight@aol;.com), January 30, 2002.

You gotta be organized, calm, if you're nervous, fumbling and tripping over stuff, odds are they will be nervous. The envirement around the sitter should be uncluttered(if possible), and relaxing(I always have music on).

Time will probably be at a premium, but you need a 'breaking the ice period' to establish some kind of contact, a 'comfort zone'. Nothing overdone, you don't need the clients life history, but you need to get a feel for the client, they in turn will be getting a feel for you.

Without endless 'technicalese' you let the client know what you want to do, what you're trying to achieve, welcome questions, check to make sure they're comfortable, or need refreshment.

When we start shooting sometimes I'll try, 'Listen I don't have any film in this thing, don't pay any attention to me, I'm just going to fire it off to check my strobe, better yet relax and look my way and I'll check focus, that's great'. I do have film in the camera, and trying this sometimes I'll get the most relaxed shots.

I don't like 'standard poses' and don't use 'em, actors and models can strike a preconceived pose and make it look natural, but other folks can't, for these folks I just like to keep talking or let them talk, interact, until they settle into something that is comfortable for them, which is in fact what a pose is.

Lay down groundrules and do everything gently and always be positive. If something doesn't work, then 'hey we're almost there, but I think we can make it a little better, not 'it's not working'. Whatever you say to the client, there's going to be a reaction that is going to register or come through when you shoot.

Client feels good, relaxed, things start going on a roll, you're going to see that on film, if you can't get your 'Mojo' working, then take a break, a refreshment, something in order to reset. Good luck!

-- Jonathan Brewer (, January 30, 2002.

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