Q: I am interested in taking portraits in my home. I have taken some sitting using bounce flash with Vericolor II Professional Film ASA 100 and they have turned out fair.
I'm now interested in purchasing a set of studio portrait lights that I saw in a catalogue. I didn't understand what type of lights they were -- the brand name was Smith-Victor. What kind of film would I need with studio portriat lights? Also, can a flash be used along with them?
Can anyone give me some tips on taking serious portraits in the home and tell me what kind of film to use with what type of lighting?
A: Your best bet is to stay with flash. Not only will it stop motion but it will give you the best color as well. You mention that you have tried bounce flash with Vericolor film. I would recommend the same film -- but with a different flash technique.
I would not recommend that you use the so-called "studio" lights, which I suspect are merely reflectors that hold 500-watt 3200 Kelvin or photoflood lights. The lighting from these lamps is a fairly harsh light that casts shadows -- hardly a flattering light source -- and the bulbs change color with age so that one needs to constantly buy new bulbs or add filtration as they glow redder.
Electronic flash units deliver the same consistent color and quantity of light, which means that if your exposures are right you will get good skin tones every time. (Do not mix flash with other light sources, as each has a different color of light that will show up on the film.)
What you will have to do is take the flash off the camera and add others that can be tripped by photo eyes or extension cords. (Photo eyes are best because there won't be cords lying about on the floor.) With a two-flash light setup you can take adequate portraits; with three, you can do anything.
The trick to using flash portraiture is to bounce the flash, not off the ceiling, but from white umbrellas mounted on light stands. The umbrellas can be adjusted for height and direction and mounted on a light stand with an extension arm that holds the flash so that it points into the umbrella. (The kind of umbrellas to get are the white ones with a satin-like surface; the silvered cast too harsh a light.)
There are many flash systems on the market. Vivitar has a very complete system consisting of electronic flash units that are triggered by photo eyes -- the 283 series is the most popular. Whatever make you buy, be sure that all the units can be fired from one triggering light.
Pro photographers who use flash for portraiture have a built-in modeling light on their large expensive units. You can get the same effect by clamping an ordinary light right on thelight stand that holds the flash -- pointed back at the mounted white umbrella -- and using this light source to set the flash distance and direction for the portrait effect you want. Then after setting the lights with this dummy lighting, you can shoot with flash -- if you use fairly weak lighting, say 100-watt bulbs in a small reflector to keep light glare out of the lens, the lights can be kept on during the shooting.
The very first accessory you absolutely have to have is a 15- to 20-foot extension cord so that you can place thekey, or modeling light, away from the camera. The extension cord can be plugged into the camera X contact by means of a synch cord.
Setting up the lights is simple. Position the key light to model the face and then place the other light back of the subject directly opposite the key light. The first light from the front will illuminate the face while the back light will give hair highlights and lighten the background. Move the lights around and study the effects and then choose the lighting setup.
To determine the proper exposure, divide the distance of the key light into the Guide Number of the flash being used. And if you do a number of sittings, keep the key light at the same distance and you won't have to change the lens setting.
Seamless roll paper is the best background or, for a more natural effect, pose your model in house settings that are appropriate. A reflector can be made from a large piece of white cardboard, a white pillowcase or a projection screen. The reflector can be adjusted to lighten the shadow areas.
Try this two-light flash setup before investing in more gear. With the two flashes reflected off white umbrellas and the addition of a white reflector, you'll be amazed at the variety of lighting possible. Study the pro portraits and copy the lighting they use, and see how close you can come to their results. Q: You mentioned in a recent column that taking pictures of the TV screen can be tricky. Enclosed is the only one that I have left of 16 that I took in a half-hour with a 420 Polaroid. They were taken with the same auto setting as I use outdoors. Thought you may want to try this method. A: I did! I took my trusty Polaroid SX-70 Sonar One Step, adjusted the TV for bright image and best color and shot an automatic. It worked beautifully. The only added suggestion I have is to adjust the exposure one notch on the overexposure side for perfect copies. Q: I do a little freelancing photography and have noticed that a picture which reproduces nicely on a brochure will look terrible when printed on newsprint.
What quality must a print have to make it acceptable for newspaper reproduction? A: Newsprint reproduction of photographs has built-in limitations. One is that the paper is porous so that the ink is absorbed; another is that the base color of the stock itself is grayish instead of white; and the third is that the coarse screen used in printing also loses detail. What all this adds up to is that only a portion of the photographic detail can be reproduced.
The only way around this dilemma is to make the best possible print with the fullest graduation of tones. The print should have detail in both highlight and shadow. This usually means a softer grade of paper than for viewing or salon prints.
Because of the loss in detail it's best to crop the print as tightly as possible so that the resulting detail is larger. On full faces, or mug shots as they're called, crop to the ears. If there are two people or more, stack them close when posing so that there is very little "waste" space between. On scenics, enlarge a section rather than go for the over-all effect and do the same on newsworthy pictures -- eliminate the non-essentials.
Compare newspaper photography with photography found in magazines and books, and you'll begin to see the differences in technique.