How often when moving in for a close-up have you heard you model say, nervously, "Not so close -- I don't want all my wrinkles to show"? They have every right to be anxious, because most close-up amateur portraits are far from what they should be.
The problem is that when you enlarge the face all those wrinkles, sags and blemishes also become bigger than life. A portrait photographer understands this and makes accommodations in technique to minimize the faults: soft-focus lenses, studio lighting and retouching to get a pleasing effect.
The amateur doesn't have this recourse. All he has is the camera in hand and the glaring outdoor light, and he certainly can't retouch that miniature negative even if he knew how. The model has probably seen results of this lack of technique; no wonder he or she is nervous.
But it doesn't have to be that way. You can take close-ups with the average 35-mm camera right outdoors in the blazing sun and have them come out very close to what the pro can do in his studio.
First of all, you will absolutely need a super-sharp lens for portraiture. And it doesn't even have to be super-long; a medium tele of from 90 mm to 135 mm is ideal.
Next you will need some type of white reflector. It doesn't have to be fancy -- even a large piece of white cardboard will do. I use a Reflectasol white umbrella, but in a pinch I've used many other available reflectors, from a white wall to a shirt or even a page of newspaper.
What the long lens will give you is better perspective -- no more Mr. Bignose because you shoved that camera right into somebody's face. You can work at a respectful distance, keep the features proportionate and still get a large image.
What the reflector will do is disperse the harsh outdoor sunlight into soft bounce light that bathes the face instead of scouring it. Shadows will be filled in and glaring highlights will be softened. In effect, what you'll get is an outdoor version of the indoor studio lighting.
With these two aids setting up the outdoor portrait is easy.
Ask your model to turn away from the sun, so the hair is backlighted but the face is in shadow. Then use the reflector to lighten up the face until you get the effect you want. You will notice that as the reflector is moved closer, the face is lightened; and as it is moved to the side from a front-of-the-face position, the modeling will increase. In this way you can get very close to the effect studio lights give.
To simulate studio portraiture further, open up your lens to f/2.8 of f/4 and speed up you shutter to compensate. With a long lens, this will cut down you depth of focus so that the nose will be soft and the ears also fading into the head, while the eyes will stand out crisp and sharp. (For this technique be absolutely sharp and focus right on the iris of the eye nearer the lens.)
The only other thing to watch is to ask you model to look past the reflector at a dark background area so that the eyes are relaxed and wide open instead of squinting. The easiest way to do this is to move your camera position to the side, so the eyes can still look into the lens but the reflector won't be in the picture.
Finally, take another idea from the studio photographers' technique: Shoot a series of angles and expressions and choose the enlargement from the proof prints.
I guarantee that if you follow these instructions your next modeling session with friends or family will produce a better take for both you and your model. Q: Several of my friends and I are Argus aficionados. We are looking for an instruction book and other literature for the discontinued Argus C-3 and Argus C-4 cameras. This info must be available somewhere. Could you put me on the right trail? A. The best trail I can think of are the readers of this column. If anyone has such information, please write in and I'll pass it along.