Slowing down while taking pictures is not always an easy thing. For those of us that learned with digital, the idea of shooting only a limited number of frames per session seems unthinkable. However, doing with what we have, and pressing the shutter only when we are sure to have a picture we are going to appreciate, is a very refreshing approach. Having just recently started shooting film, here are five tips I could give a digital portrait photographer to get better results, spend less time working, and slow down a bit.
Think of Your LCD as a Digital Polaroid
The tiny screen on the back of your camera is both your best friend and your worst enemy. It will help you make sure your exposure is dead on, but it might also distract you and make you miss a moment you’d otherwise have captured.
Just because there is an LCD on the back of our digital cameras (unless you own one of the latest Leicas), doesn’t mean we have to use it. Shooting film taught me that chimping doesn’t do you any good. Once your exposure is set, your composition, your model’s expression, and pose should be checked in the viewfinder. Not on the LCD screen.
Next time you go out on a shoot, try to limit the number of test shots and when your exposure is set, don’t look at your screen anymore. If you can’t force yourself, use some fancy gaffer tap to help you refrain yourself from chimping.
Don't Be Trigger Happy
SD and CF cards are dirt cheap nowadays. So why should we shoot only the bare minimum?
If you shoot weddings, you know how painful the culling process can be. Even for portraits, choosing 10–20 images amongst a few hundreds can be a tough task. It’s a part of the workflow that can be simplified by capturing only what you need.
Also, when selecting your pictures, I’m sure you’ve noticed that you often have a bunch that are very similar. It can be a real pain to choose between images when they are almost the same.
When using my Mamiya RB67, I don’t want to ruin my precious film, and have learned to press the shutter only once for each pose. I didn’t shoot twice the same, except when I was absolutely certain the first image was missed. Surprisingly, I have more keepers than ever before, and less culling to do because I shot less.
Use a Flash Meter
Small tweaks in post can be somewhat a loss of time. Having to adjust exposure in Capture One or Lightroom is one of them. Especially as it is very easy to get it right in camera. Using a flash meter will yield a great starting point — or even perfect exposure if you know your histogram zones — and limit the number of test shots required. You will also be more likely to have a constant exposure across different sets.
Not only that, but using a flash meter is one of those things that will slow you down, make you look at what you are going to shoot, and think if it is really worth it or not. If you don’t have a flash meter, there are tons of apps available for mobile devices.
Analyze What You Retouch
Photoshop is an amazing tool. You can do things most of your clients would describe as witchcraft. However, it is time-consuming. I would almost bet that retouching is the part of the workflow where photographers spend the most of their time — except for those outsourcing.
Those who learned photography the digital way, like myself, tend to rely on Photoshop for things that could be corrected with makeup, lighting, or posing. Shooting film and trying not to retouch my work before putting it out there definitely made me aware that there is a lot to be done on set.
However, it might mean having more people on set (makeup artist, hairstylist), more gear (lighting, reflectors, lenses), more experienced models, or just finding alternatives.
Next time you open a picture in Photoshop, analyze your work and look for what could have been done differently on set to correct what you are about to change in post. Also, be sure to show the before and after to a makeup artist to see if he or she could have done anything to help.
Give Film a Try
I never thought I would write this. But yes, give film a try; you might be as surprised as me by the result.
Not only can well-scanned negatives match the quality of most current DSLR, but it’s also the cheapest way to get into medium format and large format camera systems. For example, a Mamiya RB67 can be found for just under $300 on eBay.
A fully mechanical camera, with no electronic help (no meter, no stabilization, no nothing), will force you to work differently and think a bit more about what you are doing.
Using film for paid jobs might not work for everyone. It might be to slow paced for some photographic styles and there is no “dual film” option for backup, but for personal work I believe this is something every photographer should experience.
Some people will argue that slowing down is about self-discipline and perhaps they are right. All I know is that shooting a bit slower, thinking more about what we are doing, and connecting with our subject are all crucial. I hope the five tips above will help you as much as they help me.