Using Film for Portraits of a Highway Patrolman

Using Film for Portraits of a Highway Patrolman

I started a new project recently creating portraits on 11x14 film.  I have had an 11x14 back for my Deardorff for several years, but I have never shot much in that format.  I decided to try a couple sheets in hopes of kick starting a new project. 

I asked a friend of mine who is a highway patrolman to stop by the studio for a test shoot.  I also wanted to check out the new film holder I purchased from S&S FilmHolders.

I began the set up with a charcoal gray background lit by two heads with standard reflectors.  The main light, an 86" extreme silver PLM from Paul Buff, was positioned close to the subject at about eye level.  I wanted the lighting to be dramatic, but I still needed a fill.  I chose a 22" silver beauty dish with a 30 degree grid and Rosco diffusion behind the grid.  This head was positioned over the camera with the power turned down quite a bit.


The photograph was shot with an 11x14 Deardorff using a Rodenstock 480mm lens.  The exposure was 1/60 at f/32 2/3.  I shot two sheets of Ilford HP5 Plus (rated at ISO 250) which was processed by Dalmatian BW Lab and scanned by NancyScans.

Postproduction was pretty straightforward.  I cleaned up a couple blemishes, threads, etc and did a little burning and dodging.

Overall, I am pleased with the image.  It's a good start to the project.  It's hard to tell from the low res image online, but the detail in the shot is incredible.  The subject's eyes are tack sharp, but his shoulders are slightly out of focus and the front brim of his hat is very soft.  The S&S film holder performed flawlessly.

I hope to continue with this series.  As I have said in other posts, most of my work is shot digitally, but large film is a nice change of pace.  I really have to concentrate when I only have two exposures to get the shot and only a couple inches of depth of field.  You don't know what you have until the box from the lab arrives.  I guess that's what makes this fun and unique.

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The camera in the diagram is probably close to scale! Do you make darkroom prints anymore? I would be interested to see how some massive prints turned out from say, some 30" roll paper stock.

Thanks Kyle.  No, couldn't find the right camera for the diagram - ha! 

Unfortunately I don't make darkroom prints anymore.  I'm scanning, then making prints.

It is nice portrait but I wish I could see this picture live(printed).
When you shoot film do you take couple digital pictures just in case?

Hi Roman.  Thanks for the compliment.  I too would like to see a very large print from this - either from the scan or directly from the negative.  So far, I haven't had anything large made.

Just realized I didn't answer your second question.  Sorry.  In this case, I didn't shoot any digitals since it was just a test shoot.  I explained to my friend that I was trying something new and that it may not work.  Fortunately, both sheets were in focus.  I just need to adjust the lighting.  Thanks.

The halo around the edge of this otherwise awesome portrait is distracting.


Thanks for the compliment on the portrait.  I had to do more burning on this than I would have liked to.  The background was much brighter than I wanted.

why are you shooting film if you are over photoshoping this image?

You may be right.  It's hard not to keep tweaking - whether it's film or digital.  As I replied above, I sort of missed on the background exposure and had to do more burning that I would normally like to do.

The lighting on this portrait is really exceptional. I like it quite a lot, hope to see more!

Hi Mike.  Thanks so much for the compliment.  I have shot one other portrait on 11x14 since doing this one.  I'm still tweaking the light, etc.  I'll make another post when I have several to show and maybe some behind the scenes images.  Take care.

Why do you rate the film iso 250?

Hi Greg.  Thanks for the comment.  Sorry to take so long to reply.  I typically overexpose b/w slightly.  You definitely want to err on the side of overexposure, rather than under.  Back when I was processing my own film, I would always overexpose, then underdevelop my film for a greater tonal range.  I would test films to see how far I could take this.  Sometimes a 400 speed film would be rated at ISO 125 or a 100 speed film at ISO 40 or 50.  If you underexpose and have to push the film, it could get unnecessarily grainy.  Thanks!

Hi Milton, 
What a great image and thanks for sharing your set up. 
I wasn't even aware that you could get 11x14" film as i've stopped at 5x4. 
I think the whole not knowing what you have is part of the fun of shooting film and that a lot of people have lost sight of this over time, myself included. 
Shooting large format really makes you slow down and look at every subtle little nuance of a scene and whether it's financial (they know how much one sheet costs) or just the respect that people have for these cameras when they're being photographed by them, the images always seem to have a dramatic weight to them like a painting. 

That's my ramble over, keep up the great work and keep submitting as I would love to see more as you shoot them. 

Hi Rob.  Thanks so much for the kind words.  I really appreciate that.  I am trying to set up additional 11x14 shoots now.  I'll post more soon.

Thanks again!