Most of us think large-format studio-type portraits are beyond the capabilities of a 35mm camera, but surprisingly this small format can come close to the studio portrait.
You have to use a certain technique to get this effect. The best example is the magazine cover photo, usually enlarged from a 35mm size.
The basic equipment for high-quality 35mm portraiture is a medium tele lens, from 80mm to 135mm. With this mm-range you can get a good perspective by staying back four to six feet from your subject, but you'll still have a full-frame image. (My favorite is a 105mm f/2.8 Nikkor.)
The focal length you choose in this range is not as important as its ability to focus close enough so that you get a full-size head or less in your viewfinder. Image size is important because you can only get good-quality enlargements from an entire frame of 35mm. When you blow up only part of a frame, the image will start to fall apart.
The essential is good lighting. The light can be from a bounced strobe, preferably by using a white umbrella. If you don't have one, use a piece of white cardboard, sheet or pillowcase.
But artificial light can be tricky. You won't be able to see the effect unless you use a Polaroid for a test shot. A better way is to use natural light so you can see the effect before you take the picture.
My favorite lighting is indoors by an open window; it casts a side light on the face. I then use a white umbrella to kick back some of the light to illuminate the shadow side. You can adjust the effect of this light by asking your model to turn toward or away from the light until the lighting on the face is the way you want it.
Where you focus is crucial. You should focus right on the iris of the eyes closest to the lens. Do not close the lens down smaller than f/4 or f/5.6 (f/4 is my favorite for portraits). At this large aperture your sharp focus will be only on the eyes and tip of the nose in front, and the ears and hairline in back will be pleasingly out of focus. And, wrinkles and skin imperfections will be suppressed.
High-seppd films (ASA 400 negative color films and the fast black and whites) are excellent for this type of indoor portraiture. With them you can shoot hand-held by window light at f/4 from 1/30th to 1/125th. By this I don't mean direct sunlight but diffused light from a shaded or north window.
For best quality black-and-white prints, use soft-working fine-grain developers such as Microdol or Ethol 90. For the best color prints use negative color, ASA 400 film rather than transparency slide material, because you not only get a sharper image but the negative film has better lab control.
Finally, pay attention to the background. Be sure that no objects are "growing out of the head." The best background to use is a plain wall.
Try close-up 35 mm portraiture with these techniques and I'll bet that your friends will think the print came from a professional photo studio.
Q. I have been told that using a heat press for mounting color photos distorts the color but I've had very limited success using the spray-type mounting adhesive. What's the best way to mount color and Cibacrome photos? .
A. I like spray-mounting. I use 3M spray and spray both the back of the print on and the surface of the mount. Then I place the print on the mount, cover the face of the print and use a towel to press the print onto the board.
A new product called Double-stick is now available for glossy Cibacrome prints. It consists of a sheet adhesive between two protective layers of coating and a white plastic panel. The protective paper is first peeled off one side, then the exposed adhesive side is pressed onto the back of the print. Then the other protective layer is peeled off, and the print adheres to the plastic mounting panel.