I thought I’d show some of my recent back-to-film portrait shoots on the blog, with some quick notes on how it’s been going.
My goal is to eliminate digital completely from most of my portrait shoots, with the exception of using a dSLR to ‘chimp’ my lighting, since I use a lot of strobe. As an intermediate step though, I’ve been shooting the ‘posed’ portraits on medium format film, and using my dSLR to capture the candids (e.g. kids running around like monkeys after I told them they didn’t have to sit still anymore). I recently did a shoot where I captured the candids on 35mm film, but I have not gotten those back from the lab yet.
My first official “without a net”, no-digital shoot was a family affair. By that I mean my wife’s cousins from one branch of her family. A large group of us were camping at the beach a few months ago, and I was asked to shoot some casual group shots while I was there. I had previously vowed to shoot only film while on vacation, so when asked, I decided I wasn’t going to bring a dSLR just for this group shot. Instead I simply shot it on the Bronica ETR-s, which I had along with me anyway.
The film is Fuji Pro 160S on 220 format film. I exposed for their faces using an incident light meter. I then set up a strobe (Nikon SB-28) at camera position, on auto and underexposing a stop, for fill. No chimping and I don’t think I even brought a strobe meter. The ambient was doing the heavy lifting, and the strobe was just to fill the shadows a little bit.
Ok time to get a little more serious about film. Below you see some long-time clients of mine. Ironically the last time I shot them, I also used a mix of film and digital then as well! It’s been a few years, and they managed to (just barely) skip my all-digital period. Below I’m shooting on Kodak Ektar 100, probably f/8 or so. For this shoot, I had a flash meter as well as ambient. So I first picked an aperture that a) I knew my strobe could expose properly for, given the distance to the subjects, b) would not yield a shutter speed that was too slow to prevent subject blurring, and c) would give me the depth of field I needed to have my subjects in focus. I then set my main strobe (Metz Mecablitz 60 in 43″ shoot-through umbrella) to expose properly for that aperture. I don’t recall if I used a fill light or not, but I would have set that about 1 stop down. And then I picked a shutter speed that underexposed the ambient…by a stop? More? I don’t remember now. You can see how dark the distant trees are though, which is probably a stop underexposed.
Unfortunately, when I switched backs for a new roll of film on my Bronica, something went wrong. The camera felt like it was advancing the film, but the counter wasn’t moving. So I quickly baled on the Bronica and switched to digital, not missing a beat. The film images are by far the best ones from the shoot though, and I wish I’d had another roll of film. That’s right, I showed up with two film backs and only two rolls of film…hey I’m still working out the procedural kinks in this process!
Fresh from my scare with the Bronica film back, and not sure what the problem was, I decided to use my Yashica-Mat twin lens reflex camera for another repeat client. Who, as it happens, also had their first shoot done as a mix of film and digital. This was also shot on Ektar. I had a major panic moment on the way home, when I discovered the easily-moved flash sync switch was on “M” rather than “X”. Without going into the technical details at the moment, if I’d shot with it set to “M”, all my exposures would have missed the flash timing, even though the flash would have appeared to behave normally. I would have ended up with silhouettes instead of nicely exposed people. I pestered the lab to report back on the negatives, and fortunately the switch must have shifted after the shoot.
I did however start hankering for faster film. ISO 100 film means I’m shooting at f/8 a lot of the time, at least for full-body shots (distance of the flash reduces the power, and therefore I need a wider aperture). But f/8 didn’t give me the depth of field in medium format that I needed for groups of people. F/16 was more like what I needed, which meant that—with the current strobe power I have—I needed to shoot at ISO 400. So where the heck was that new Kodak 400 Portra film?? I need it!!
Next we come to a shoot on my Mamiya RB67. 6×7 medium format needs even more depth of field than 645 like the Bronica…the format is bigger, so relative DOF is smaller compared to smaller film formats. The images below are shot using the old Portra 400 NC, and I exposed it at ISO 200 for better scanning. That gave me one more stop’s worth of depth of field, compared to Ektar. I really like the quality of these images…I don’t know whether it’s the camera, the film, the light or the people. Lighting: Metz to the right in an umbrella as main light, fill flash at camera position (Nikon SB-28), and sun to camera left, behind the subjects. It helps that we had a really nice day too!
So there are more family portrait images coming, including some shot on the elusive New Portra 400 (at ISO 400, natch!). It’s my busy season in the lead up to the holidays, and I’m burning through film. You can see more of my family portrait photography here.