Best Portrait film in natural lighting? : LUSENET : B&W Photo - Film & Processing : One Thread

Im wanting to do some Portraits outside in natural lighting in B&W, What would you recomend for this and would you use any filters and why? Also do you prefere Fill flash or no fill flash? Thanks

-- mark (, August 29, 2001


I took a couple of portraits outdoors last month. I took them in the shadow against a house wall. The film I used was Agfa APX 25, shot at 12 Asa. The camera was a Rolleiflex TLR 3,5 Tessar (from 1938). I had a Rolleisoft/Duto 0 and a light green filter. I used Agfas recipe 8, a superb portrait developer with Glycin.

The results were stunning! Looong tonal scale, and have never seen so good skin tones before.

I guess APX 100 will work great too, at 50 Asa. Other nice films I would use are Efke R 50 and R 25. They were made to be great portrait films from the beginning. They are ortopanchromatic, so you don't need a green filter with them. No filters even indoors using lamps.

This is my version of Agfa 8 film developer:

Glycin, Normal contrast

Warm Water (125 F / 52 C) - 750 ml Sodium sulfite, Anhydrous - 12,5 g Glycin - 2 g Sodium Carbonate 22,5 g Add cold water to make 1000 ml.

Develop films from 5 to 12 minutes at 68 F (20 C)

-- Patric (, August 29, 2001.

I suggest HP5+, Delta 400 (new), Fuji Neopan 400 or any of the b&w chromogenic films made for processing in C-41 color chemistry. The reason? 400 speed films are inherently lower in contrast than slower films in the ISO 100 range. Also, the higher speed films have more grain and the grain tends to smooth facial imperfections.

Of even greater concern is lighting. Generally speaking, for basic portraiture you want softer light, such as open shade. A classic lighting technique is simple north light. To achieve this, position your subject facing north, with no direct sunlight hitting the face. One easy solution is to place your subject against a wall that looks north. The reason this works so nicely is the wall eliminates direct sunlight while the northern sky reflects the sun, which shines from the southern half of the sky. Thus, the entire northern sky effectively becomes a huge reflector, providing full, even lighting. North light is also a very sharp light, revealing great detail, but without the harshness of direct sunlight. One final note about choosing your location: the northern sky should be as open as possible, unbroken by large trees, buildings and so forth.

Obviously, north light is not the only effective light. But I strongly recommend you begin with this quality of light and learn to recognize its subtleties. It's not by accident that the great master painters had north-facing skylights in their studios.

As for fill flash, I recommend you avoid it for now. It takes considerable experience to learn to use fill flash effectively so that it looks natural. In fact, unless you have a flash you can remove from your camera and bounce from a wall of a ceiling, I suggest you do away with it altogether for portraiture. If you need fill, get yourself some sheets of white foam-core board in 1/4"x30"x40" size, and have a friend hold it up close to the model on the side you wish to fill. You should also try holding it under the model's face, parallel to the ground. Observe how this lightens dark circles under the eyes and is especially effective for softening wrinkles.

Filters? If you do all the other stuff I recommended, you probably don't need filters. With that said, however, keep in mind that a given color filter lightens the same color in your subject. Therefore, if your subject has red, blotchy skin--acne, age spots, etc.--a red (#25) or orange (O2 or #21) filter will help considerably. Some say a yellow or green filter yields richer skin tones, but I have never found them particularly useful.

Lastly, experiment a lot. Do it straight and classic, then do it again and break the "rules." The bottom line is there is never only one way to take a photograph. That is the endless joy of photography; the countless opportunities for variation are always yours for the taking.

Good luck and have fun!

-- Ted Kaufman (, August 29, 2001.

If you can use 120 size, use Verichrome Pan. Filters would depend on the background, but probably not. Fill flash, depends on the nature of the existing light. Generally not if you've got soft light.

-- Charlie Strack (, August 29, 2001.

Is the model male or female?

As Ted said, I suggest that you forget about film and focus on lighting unless you already learned a lot about it. Natural light is easy to start with and difficult to perfect. A Fill flash is effective but it's not the easiest thing, at least if you want something more than auto-everything result. I suggest you begin with a reflector.

As a starting point, I suggest Plus-X. No filter for male, a yellow or orange filter for female. Develop in ID-11 1+1. Indeed, this is my favorite for usual portraits.

-- Ryuji Suzuki (, August 30, 2001.

Ted wrote:

"I suggest HP5+, Delta 400 (new), Fuji Neopan 400 or any of the b&w chromogenic films made for processing in C-41 color chemistry. The reason? 400 speed films are inherently lower in contrast than slower films in the ISO 100 range. Also, the higher speed films have more grain and the grain tends to smooth facial imperfections."

Oh, I must say that we all have different taste in photography and portraits! That's great! :-)

However, I recommend a low/medium speed film that you overexpose one step and then shorten the developing time with circa 30%. That will give lower contrast and finer grain. A large aperture and a softfilter will smoothen the skin.

When I shot the portraits I was talking about above, I shot APX 25 and 12 Asa, and used 1/10 sec speed on the shutter... I got very low contrast, but not too low, and I developed the paper, Emaks K888, grade 2, in undiluted Ansco 130. I wish I had a scanner do I could show you the results. :-)

I've heard very good things about Verichrome pan, but that film isn't sold here in Sweden. I hope I can buy a couple of rolls someday before Kodak discontinue it.

-- Patric (, August 30, 2001.

Ted, a red filter will give you a portrait of a ghost instead of a living human. With an orange filter, maybe a zombie. :-) White lips aren't attractive.

I use a light yellow filter or a light green filter for portraits or for everyday photography. I love the tonality. But that depends of course on the light I'm shooting in.

Before you take the photos you should think about how you want the results to be like. Then check the possibilities, if you need a filter to correct the light, if you want a softfilter and so on. It's good to plan how you're going to develop the film, the Asa seetings and so on...

-- Patric (, August 30, 2001.

"Ted, a red filter will give you a portrait of a ghost instead of a living human. With an orange filter, maybe a zombie. :-) White lips aren't attractive."

Patrick: Have you ever actually *used* a red or orange filter for portraiture, or are you going by what you've heard or think it should look like? The fact is, those filters do yield a somewhat unusual tonal palate, but the effect is far from ghastly. It's actually very appealing. Have you ever seen a portrait done with TechPan film? It has enhanced red sensitivity--orthochromatic--and therefore produces a tonality much like that of panochromatic films exposed through a red or orange filter. You only need to search to posts here to discover how lovely portraits done on TP can be. If you want fine grain, you can't get any finer than TP and you'll be shocked at how beautiful portraits can look with it. Try it in Photographer's Formulary TD-3 developer.

Incidentally, I recommended 400 speed films to the original poster because he is not experienced. Those films will forgive small mistakes and thereby encourage continued exploration. Make a mistake in exposure or processing with APX25 (or TP, for that matter) and it will look awful.

-- Ted Kaufman (, August 30, 2001.

Hmmm. Old technology films in the 100 to 400 range. I like FP4+ in 120. I've also had succes with HP5+ also in 120. Natural light is peachy.


-- floren (, August 30, 2001.

Ted, yes I have used red and orange filters and didn't like the results. With the red filter I got pale ghost-like skintones and white lips. With the orange filter the result was similar to Tech Pan without filter, pale skin and a face with two days old beard the person looked sick. At least in my eyes. The taste is different and how the filters will work depends of course on the light conditions.

Some day I will try Technical Pan with a cyan/bluegreen filter and develop with a catechol developer instead of the expensive Technidol. But for now, I'm happy with Efke films.

You're right about that some films are more forgiving than others, but that's true even with low and medium speed films. For instance, Efke R100 is much more forgiving than APX100.

-- Patric (, August 30, 2001.

Mark, I have been using a #25 red filter with Fuji Neopan 1600 and 400 for a couple of years now, with a lot of my portraits, and I love the results. It does depend on the person's skin tone, and a lot of other factors. So, I usually take shots with and without the filter. I think it is worth a try.


-- Christian Harkness (, August 31, 2001.

Moderation questions? read the FAQ