B&W film and portraits

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In your experience shooting portraits using b&w film, what film do you use? Why? Is there any tricks and tips in exposure, lighting, or developing that will make a great portrait shot? How are the b&w pictures of celebrities that I see in the bookstore done?(like Greg Gorman). I am especially interested if there is a specific type of b&w film stock.

-- Jason Ing (audentia@aol.com), March 10, 1999



I use Iflord Delta 100 or Delta 400 for portrait work. I really like Delta 100 for this sort of shot. I develop the film in Ilfosol S and print on Agfa RC paper. Using the above I've had some great results.

In general keep the exposure as short as possible unless you want movement in the shot for creative reasons.

Watch your shadows particularly around the eyes and nose. B&W allows you to play with shadow and light easily but can catch you out if you're not careful.

Studio pros have all sorts of lights, reflectors, softboxes, flash meters and even assistants to help them out. But most of all they have years of experience and that's the key. You have to take lots of pictures and learn from your mistakes!

You don't need lots of lights and stuff. Natural light is great! Domestic tungsten based lights are ok but for artificial light, specially designed photographic lights are the ultimate. Of course, not everyone can afford them, me included!

THE key to a great portrait shot (IMHO) is the relationship you have with the model/client. It really helps if they are relaxed and feel comfortable with you. Great lenses, lights, film etc. mean nothing if your model is as stiff as a board and can't give you natural expressions.

Hope this helps.

-- Michael Chappell (mickyc@slhosiery.com.au), March 11, 1999.

Ilford PanF has a wonderfull glow to it, that suits beautiful people very well, but beware of it if the sitter has "something to hide" it's sharp and grainless so every imperfection shows up unless you play tricks with the light.

-- Kristian Elof Sxrensen (elof@image.dk), March 11, 1999.


I do agree with Michael that a relaxed model is *the key* to a great portrait. My experience with portrait shooting is very limited (in fact just 2 photo sessions, having my parents as victim^H^H^H^H^H^H willing models:) and I have no access to pro lights, just to a 6x6 camera with a 80mm lens, tripod mounted, a Spotmeter, available light and a white sheet of paper used as a reflector, to feel the shadows.

Didn't use any trick with the exposure. Just the usual 'expose for the shadows, develop for the highlights.' The sheet of paper proved to be very useful, to bounce the main light and create the proper balance between light and shadows (B&W depends on contrast).

I run my 2 photo sessions with Kodak Tri-X pro (320) developed in Xtol 1+3. It worked great for me, with very very nice negatives and beautiful skin tones. Of course it may not work for you, since the choice of film (and paper) is very personal. I don't feel the need for fine grain film with MF negatives... the prints were made on AGFA Multicontrast classic (MCC111) toned in Kodak Rapid Selenium toner, 1+3. I got a couple of photos I am not ashamed of. You can see an example in http://geres.adm.uminho.pt/~ricardo/mae.jpg

My tips for you are: Enjoy yourself, take notes on what you are doing, so you can correct mistakes later, take your time to 'explore' the model. The results will depend more on your creativity and on your skills then on your equipment, imho.

Just my 2 cents.

-- Ricardo Janeiro (ricardo@ci.uminho.pt), March 12, 1999.

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