My First Time Shooting a Portrait with the 4 X 5
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By christie stockstill
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I took a class once where we used a 4 X 5 to photograph artwork. The camera was mounted on a fancy-schmancy tripod, and the artwork was on the floor.  We had TONS of help from the professor, and I really don't remember learning much about the camera at all. It wasn't an advanced class, so I think we were just being exposed to lots of different cameras and types of photography. I do remember loading film into the holders, that huge, beautiful sheet of film that costs a pretty penny, so you are terrified of screwing up. Not to mention you have to load the film in complete darkness!  

There are many ways to screw up your image using film and a 4 X 5. I'm sure it's a matter of knowing something of a routine, doing the same steps, in the same order, for each shot, so you don't lose track of what you've done or get distracted.  I am easily distracted, so that is difficult for me. For Christmas Santa brought us copious amounts of film in myriad tones, types, and speeds, including some large format film: Fuji Neopan 100 Acros, Kodak Portra 400 and Portra 160.

Recently a young lady came over to model for us, and I had planned to attempt an involved composite image, which I did... attempt, that is.  So far it isn't working out for me. I'm temporarily (or maybe forever) abandoning it.  Fortunately, my husband had used the 4 X 5 for a couple of shots, and he asked me if I wanted to try a couple of portraits.  I had nothing elaborate in mind, no concept, no plan, no wardrobe or anything!  But I HAD to try and shoot a portrait with this gorgeous camera.  It's been in our family a long time, and we keep vowing to understand and use it!

So I threw something together from my closet of random objects and went for it.  Thankfully, Adam loaded the film for me this time, so I could focus on shooting.  I will tackle the film next time.  Baby steps.  

For these images, we were outside under the white easy-up tent. It was cloudy out, so the light was pretty flat.  (I actually like flat lighting sometimes, though, so it worked for me.) I shot two images, which thankfully are both in focus and properly exposed.  (Also thanks here to my husband, who knows a bit more about using the 4 X 5 than I.)  I really want to shoot with it more, so it can become a go-to tool for my personal work, and even client work if someone is interested! 

Here is my first ever large-format portrait, straight out of the camera and scanned with no adjustments in Photoshop. Film: Fuji Neopan 100 Acros.



On the right, is the one with a teeny bit of tweaking in Photoshop (a little contrast adjustment, removing dust, etc. from scanner, removing a whisp of hair I didn't think made for a pretty line.)  It was hard to stop messing with it.  I kept wanting to try out different textures or change the light more to be mroe dramatic, but I made myself leave it here, so I could remember how this film behaves in this lighting scenario.  At least while I'm learning, I think it's important.

Anyone else trying to learn something new? Trying a new idea? Style? Concept? They say it's not only good for our brains, to learn something new and challenging, but also good for keeping creativity flowing.   


Leave a comment:
Christie - Miriam, Thank you for checking out my new blog and my work. That's cool that you found me via the BeHuman Facebook page! I'm headed there in a little bit, actually, and will likely post way too many pictures during and afterwards!
Miriam - Hi Christie, I'm new to your blog and new to you. I discovered you through the Be Human Gallery FB page. Wow, I love your work and look forward to following your journey, changes and all. Miriam
Christie - Kristin, Thanks for checking out the new blog and this post! It was pretty rewarding, I have to say, to wait and have this image processed, get it back, and then scan it before I could really see what it looked like. It was slow and intentional, but I wouldn't want to have wait like that ALL the time. Digital has its advantages, for sure.
Kristin V. - Very cool. As an old film shooter I love seeing this new resurgence of film users. This is a beautiful calming image, very serene. Love it!