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Film camera for studio portraits


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Hi! I have been shooting film for a while now, I have been using Leica M cameras, film, for all my personal stuff, documenting dAily life.. Recent I've started a workshop of darkroom printing to learn the process and do my own prints 

 

But during this workshop they have also tough us so studio lighting and portrait sessions, and I felt in love with that

 

Now I use strobes at home with my Leica MP with a trigger. And I started doing some portraits too, but I feel my 50 summicron rigid and Leica M body are not meant to do that job, or at least another tool could do that job better

 

So I am thinking adding a film medium format camera to do some more studio portraits style 

 

Would you have any preference or suggestions? Or do you use your M body to do this kind of photography too? 

 

Thanks so much for sharing here your thoughts 

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Posted (edited)

What do you believe is limiting you in portraiture with your M cameras?   A camera is a camera is a camera when it comes to the images themselves.   The only reason to choose medium format is for finer grained images when printing.   I have used M cameras for portraits for many years.  

That said, any medium format camera will work for you.   As I prefer a little longer focal length than a "normal" lens for headshot portraits, something with interchangeable lenses is more up my alley.  Over the years I've used Mamiya C330  and Hasselblad 500 bodies professionally.   I got tired of servicing Hassy shutters from periods of disuse, so I now have two ARAX CM bodies with an array of CZJ P-6 mount glass.  The shutters are in the bodies, and the lenses are relatively inexpensive.  The limiting factor is flash sync speed, but if most of your work is going to be done with studio lights in a darkened studio and you're careful, it's not a big issue. 

Edited by hepcat
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For portraits in a studio, it all depends how far back you can stand and if you want full body shots. I quite like 75mm as on an M, but the 90mm is such a small rectangle in the viewfinder. 

Which is why people use SLRs for lenses above 75mm; focusing snaps into place with a 90mm lens on an SLR. 

The other reason to choose medium format is the form - a square for head and shoulders is perfect. 

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2 hours ago, cesc said:

So I am thinking adding a film medium format camera to do some more studio portraits style 

Would you have any preference or suggestions? Or do you use your M body to do this kind of photography too? 

portrait shooter here.

if you like using your MP, i see no reason to go 120 unless:

  1. you need the detail of 120 film; 
  2. you want a different shooting experience with WLF/TLR or SLR;
  3. you want a different aspect ratio/format; or
  4. you need a leaf shutter to sync at faster than 1/50

re point 1 - you could use a fine grain film like Portra 160 (or Aerocolor IV 100 if you dont mind doing some colour grading) and see if it gets you the results you're after

points 2 and 3 - this is a matter for you

point 4 - the slow flash sync speed is the real issue for me. (somebody please correct me, but it's my understanding that HSS doesnt work on film Ms). even if you can had hold at 1/50, your subject may be moving. there are workarounds you could try, like using constant lights, but often it's too bright for the subject. 

for the way i shoot studio portraits (rolls per shoot), i use a canon 1v with a godox trigger (i dont like having the PC sync cable). the 1v syncs to 1/250 and there is enough good EF glass to get a good image. i dont mind 120, but i just dont get enough images per roll for the fashion shots that im after. 

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As I've been trying different film and development combinations lately, I also dragged out some of my 120 cameras to try again and was amazed at the difference. I have Rolleiflex (3.5 Tessar), Hasselblad 500C/M, and Pentax 6x7. Both the Hasselblad and Pentax 6x7 have astounded me again with the Medium Format separation and falloff of portrait-distance subjects. I have an Arax metering prism finder for the Hasselblad, which makes it much easier to use, and the Pentax is familiar due to its normal SLR configuration, and I have the optional ttl meter. The Pentax lenses are excellent and much cheaper than Hasselblad, and I like the 6x7 format better, but some of the Hasselblad images are compelling.  Slides in 6x7 Ektachrome 100 will sell you on the system. Suggest you check on it.

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In the last 2-3 years I've added a Bronica GS-1 with the 65mm and 100mm lenses.  I do silver gelatin prints in B&W in my darkroom.  I absolutely love the thing, and the lenses, backs and finders are reasonably priced.  Brilliant images, with something like T-max 100 or Delta 100, there is no grain to speak of.  But, I usually shoot HP5.  Highly recommend the GS-1 for sure.

Also, if you're going to shoot medium format, then shoot 6x7 because it's all about film real estate, and 6x7 delivers.

Good luck...

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Over the years I have used many different cameras for portraiture. All fine for the job. Probably my favourite over the years was the Hasselblad, for a number of reasons. Its ergonomics are particularly good in that it naturally sits on the palm of your hand and does not have to be gripped between fingers like most other cameras. Also, the square format supports both vertical and horizontal cropping without having to constantly rotate the camera. IMO, it should be used with a 45 deg. finder which improves ergonomics considerably. Then add a winder and a 110mm lens and you are humming. But never be limited by this, or any other arrangement.

In your case I would stick with the Leica MP for the moment, and add maybe a 75mm or even 90mm lens for portraiture. This is assuming you are confining to the studio set. Outdoors, any lens is valid for portraiture which need not be restricted to head and shoulders. Some of my better portraits were done with a 24mm lens on a Leica M6. There are no rules, and if you encounter any, feel free to break them.

Be mindful of the synch speed limitations of the MP when using flash, especially when balancing with daylight, such as flash balancing with daylight outdoors.

An important factor is be comfortable and familiar with the gear you choose, because your tech skills must be automatic and secondary to your ability to direct your subject who should be given your maximum attention.

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By al means use the medium format with a lens above 75-80mm equivalent in full frame (6x4.5 has the multiply factor 1.6x, with 6x6 the factor is 1.8x and 6x7 has 2x).
You will fall in love again.

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Posted (edited)

Thanks for your comments!

15 hours ago, sometimesmaybe said:

portrait shooter here.

if you like using your MP, i see no reason to go 120 unless:

  1. you need the detail of 120 film; 
  2. you want a different shooting experience with WLF/TLR or SLR;
  3. you want a different aspect ratio/format; or
  4. you need a leaf shutter to sync at faster than 1/50

re point 1 - you could use a fine grain film like Portra 160 (or Aerocolor IV 100 if you dont mind doing some colour grading) and see if it gets you the results you're after

points 2 and 3 - this is a matter for you

point 4 - the slow flash sync speed is the real issue for me. (somebody please correct me, but it's my understanding that HSS doesnt work on film Ms). even if you can had hold at 1/50, your subject may be moving. there are workarounds you could try, like using constant lights, but often it's too bright for the subject. 

for the way i shoot studio portraits (rolls per shoot), i use a canon 1v with a godox trigger (i dont like having the PC sync cable). the 1v syncs to 1/250 and there is enough good EF glass to get a good image. i dont mind 120, but i just dont get enough images per roll for the fashion shots that im after. 

Nope, the Leica MP film camera does not have High-Speed Sync (HSS), or at least not with non-Leica flashes, I think. I'm not very sure about that, though.

I don't own a studio; I basically use my home to do some portraits of my kids, etc. I've done some tests, and at 1/50, it captures some ambient light, but with kids, I have some photos with ghosting.

The idea of keeping the MP for portraits is not a bad one at all; I know the camera by heart, and probably adding a different lens could do the job.

Medium format was more about the idea of having "grain-free" images or crops to enlarge later. I am not going to do any big prints, to be honest, though.

My actual gear includes the Leica MP with:

- Summicron 50 rigid v2, which I use for portraits (1m focus distance only).

- Summicron 35 v4 for everyday shooting indoors scenes.

Godox AD100 with a 90 cm Octo Softbox Godox with GRID so I can reduce the bounces to the white walls of my apartment.

I use the Godox Nikon X-Pro trigger; no HSS, but I can trigger the flash and measure with an external light meter.

My go-to film these days is FP4 rated at 50, developed in D-76 (1+1). I would try some Delta or Tmax to see if the grain is less pronounced for enlarging and cropping.

Another idea, to keep the same system, would be to grab a digital M body.

Sorry, I am just throwing my thoughts here in this post. Thanks so much again for your replies!

Edited by cesc
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Posted (edited)

If I was picking a camera from scratch for portraits on film, I would pick a TLR or Hasselblad, with a waist level finder. There's nothing like keeping your face visible for helping interaction with your subject. Portrait photography is about more than hardware.

Edited by LocalHero1953
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8 hours ago, cesc said:

The idea of keeping the MP for portraits is not a bad one at all; I know the camera by heart, and probably adding a different lens could do the job.

Medium format was more about the idea of having "grain-free" images or crops to enlarge later. I am not going to do any big prints, to be honest, though.

Just some additional observations for your consideration:

  1. ive just had a look at some of your portraits on IG (beautifully done BTW), for these types of 1 light headshots, you could easily use a constant light like the godox ML60 with your existing octa. just get the octa nice and close to your subject and you'll be able to really bump up the shutter speed to remove the ambient light 
  2. (assuming your just use the ad100) if you dont have any issues with hand holding at 1/50 (or you can make your subject stay still), i think you can make a good argument just to stick with your MP and just grab a 0.7m MFD 50mm (i dont recommend using a tripod, as they create a barrier between the photographer and the subject)
  3. (depending on how much you love shooting BW film and developing) consider whether a M Monochrom is for you. the 1/180 flash sync speed is nice and sufficiently fast to remove hand shake. i dont bother shooting BW film as my m246 does everything i want and it's basically noise free until 6400
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Another POV re maintaining 'contact' with the sitter. If you are shooting in a 'studio' style environment, the subject probably can't see you because you and the camera are in the dark whilst the sitting has lights shining in its face! Frequently, I used a full length mirror next to the camera, and tripod when used, so the sitter could see themselves (well lit) in the mirror. That helped them understand what I was doing with lights and made it easy for them to cooperate.

Re the waist level finder. I never use them. They slow you down considerably and you have to keep looking up to communicate. IMO only, for the Hasselblad the 45 Deg. finder is absolutely perfect, both ergonomically and functionally. 'Contact' with your sitter is done vocally. I practice 'verbal diarrhea' to maintain contact, in many different scenarios.

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Posted (edited)
On 5/7/2024 at 9:56 PM, cesc said:

Now I use strobes at home with my Leica MP with a trigger. And I started doing some portraits too, but I feel my 50 summicron rigid and Leica M body are not meant to do that job, or at least another tool could do that job better

Portraiture is all about the subject and the location. You can shoot brilliant portraits with a phone. It's the interaction of the person you photograph and yourself. It's not about photography gear, lenses etc.

Your MP, the 50mm and 35mm Summicron are perfect lenses for this genre, no need to acquire new gear. This will not improve the content. 

Don't use flashes. They are great for staged photos and professional models. Mere mortals will look like an elaborate passport photo. If that's your desire move on and buy the CM. If you are genuinely interested in authenticity (which separates the wheat from the chaff), learn how to focus lightningly fast the M and talk with your counterpart while taking snaps (when they think or smile at you, you release the trigger). Make them comfortable, move to different locations, snap here and there; at some point being photographed will become a familiar situation. Now you already have exposed 2-3 rolls. After a short while, the snapping and posing become boring. That's when you stop and talk about other stuff, leaving behind a relaxed and uplifting mood. 

Shooting portraits with regular people is a quick thing. Often the first shots are the best, sometimes the later ones are favourable. It depends on their personality. Shy people tend to open up over time, while extroverts tend to lose that certain something in the process and the photos become generic. 

Regarding lighting, it's all about eyelight. That's the trick of good lighting. All else is extra. Forget the 3-point lighting. It's for beginners and engineers. Select your location based on eyelight. When the eyes are vivid and tack-sharp, snap. That's why you need to be really good in focusing. If you want to know how classic lighting looks like, take a look at the Dutch Masters. 

Portraits work wonderfully with Portra 400. But shooting colour will add an extra layer that makes selecting the right costume/clothes even more complicated. As a rule of thumb, clothes that make the skin shine are preferable. Expose it at ISO 200 and you'll get delicate skin tones.

Kodak DoubleX 5222 is fabulous for portraits, as its made for cinema. It doesn't have that higher red sensitivity of Ilford stocks which brightens skin tones. However, Delta 100 allows for those high-resolving, jaw-dropping images that almost look like MF.  

Having great portraits printed large is super rewarding. 

 

 

Edited by hansvons
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Posted (edited)
1 hour ago, hansvons said:

Regarding lighting, it's all about eyelight.

This can’t be said enough! 

This shot from Paulo Roversi is a bit OTT in that regard, but even half way along this path is effective. 

I recall reading that he shoots these portraits as Polaroids so I don’t know how much manipulation this shot received in printing rather than just very good lighting, at which he excels. 

Edited by LocalHero1953
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1 hour ago, LocalHero1953 said:

This shot from Paulo Roversi is a bit OTT in that regard, but even half way along this path is effective. 

There’s a lot to be learned from this shot.

1. Classic archetypes like the young heroine or the old sage work best in portraiture.

2. It's all about the eyes.

3. Don’t smile. Smiles kill the enigmatic factor in a portrait (that was Lindbergh’s secrete source).

4. Technicalities like DOF, FOV, f-stop, FL, etc. are irrelevant.

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Posted (edited)

A few years ago I visited the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam just to look at how the old masters dealt with light and portraits. Most of them would fail a camera club judge assessment:

 

 

Edited by LocalHero1953
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So, I recently went through a similar process. I thought I needed a 120 format camera, but I ended up buying some basic trigger from Adorama that works for single pin cameras like the MP. I use that trigger on my MP to trigger the Godox AD100 Pro with a 120cm soft box (I like the very soft diffusion of a big soft box). I haven’t had any issues with shutter speed being 1/50th of a second, because the flash seems to “freeze” the image anyway. I sort of see it this way: if I were to photograph a moving subject in a studio, with the purpose of the subject to be moving (let’s say a bit of dancing or something), even if there is movement/blur, wouldn’t I want to add that effect to the image anyway? And for still subjects, I’ve had no issues.

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