Light, Camera, No Action!

This past weekend saw an initial flurry of portrait sessions. We completed 3 on Saturday and 4 on the Sunday – 2 shots each session using 1 film holder each time.

This constraint puts a lot of pressure on – the framing, composition, exposure etc has to be right even before the first shot is taken. With digital cameras the practice would be to take a shot, review image on the LCD screen, make adjustments then repeat for, potentially, hundreds of shots to get a few that might make the final edit.

As we don’t have that luxury, Joann and I have worked through how to get everything in place before the sitters appear. We arrive 30 minutes ahead of the allotted time and try to find an angle on the house that results in a composition that I’m happy with.

Once the overall framing of the house is set then Jo stands in the scene so that we can find the ideal arrangement of sitters. This really wasn’t as simple as it sounds and we often took a fair bit longer than the 30 minute setup time we had allowed – especially if Jo also had a view and suggestions.

The key challenge was to get as much of the house in as we could and for the sitter to be in a reasonable position in the frame so as not to appear too small.

Once the composition was set we moved on to getting the focus sharp before we were ready to call on the sitters to take their place.

This led straight onto the next challenge; avoiding odd things appearing from the sides or tops of peoples heads – down pipes, window frames and all manner of other things on or around peoples houses. This things often add interest but definitely need to worked around.

This would be less a problem if I could throw the background out of focus but that is not the look I want for this series – think Group f/64 but not quite that obsessive.

This whole setup process could easily take 20 mins or more – it’s really not a point and shoot form of photography and that is part of the rationale for my approach to the project – after all most of us have more time under lockdown.

Once the sitters have taken their places, the first step is to explain the kit and process as most have had no experience of anything like this style of photography; we need to ‘set expectations’ to improve chances of success – a few quick practice runs to demonstrate the shutter speed and make sure they could hold a pose for a second or so without moving, blinking, or even laughing.

Once comfortable then I could take the first shot. If we weren’t changing anything then the second shot was a quick affair – remove the film holder turn it around and push back into the camera.

On several occasions we decided to change the view on the house which meant going through all the steps again.

My lack of recent practice showed on a few occasions and, being a little rusty, I’m not at all convinced that I haven’t made a few mistakes. To know for sure, I need to process the films and see what the negative has in store for me – and that of course is based on the assumption that I don’t mess up in the darkroom which is always a distinct possibility.

If all is well then I can scan the negative; if not, then we will have to ‘go again’. And for that I thank goodness we aren’t all running around like normal.


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