Candid portraits/shooting with all manual camera

Discussion in 'Medium Format' started by SJSF, Mar 22, 2018.

  1. I have now spent a few weeks with a Hasselblad 500CW and 120mm CF lens. Coming from auto-all cameras, I am still struggling with focusing when trying to snap pictures of my kids moving about and I feel I am getting better but metering, I feel is a lost cause. Outside, I can use the Sunny-16 rule but indoors, I am totally clueless. I've tried to integrate a handheld light meter in the workflow but there is no way it can keep up with my Auto-All 35mm gear or my kids.

    I would appreciate if people can share their experience and workflow. Provided you can nail the focus, what do you do for metering indoors? Is it practical to use a manual camera for candid indoors photography or should I reserve my Hasselblad for more staged pictures and look to an auto-body?

    I even got a metered finder for the Hasselblad but (1) makes the rig too heavy to handhold (2) the metered finder workflow works out to be pretty much the same as an external meter (3) the 45-degree finder angle is too annoying for framing.
  2. I'm not really an expert, but there's a reason auto-focus and auto exposure were invented. ;)

    Subjects that are moving in low / varying light situations are going to be challenging. I don't really use my old medium format camera for sports or anything where there's a lot of movement. I'll use a manual 35 mm camera for my kids' sporting activities and the best suggestion I can make is to pick a spot (or distance), focus, set exposure and wait until your kid moves there rather than to try and follow them with the camera.

    The more light you have to work with, the greater the depth of field you can utilize and the less important exact focus is. Also, modern film negatives have a fairly wide latitude, so you can also be off a bit on the exposure and still be OK.
  3. What's more important to you; capturing nice sharp pictures of your kids, or satisfying some masochistic urge to shoot MF film?

    You get no medals for making life difficult for yourself, and a decent DSLR will deliver as good, or better, image quality than 6x6 film.

    You might get more consistent exposure using bounce flash, but that's not going to help with the focussing issue.
  4. Sandy Vongries

    Sandy Vongries Administrator Staff Member

    What you describe is the way things were in years past, and we were able to take some very nice photos. I have never owned a Hassy, but did what you describe with a variety of other film cameras. First, you need decent light and a fast film, say ISO 400. You will want enough light to be able to set aperture to a reasonable size 5.6 to 8, and as fast a shutter speed as that will allow. Set the lens to hyperfocal distance using the scale on the lens so that the midpoint of the focus range is selected. On my Nikon F2, for example, at F8, 10' to 30' will be in focus. You can determine the range you want by focusing on the farthest and nearest objects and setting focus halfway between. Takes a little practice, works well for the street as well. As to the weight of the Hassy, you might try a monopod - I don't find that using one slows me down a lot even with a long heavy lens. Good luck with it -- was done successfully manually for a very long time.
    casey_c and paul ron like this.
  5. Manual focus manual exposure medium format indoors for kid photos is not an easy or advisable combination. As commented above, a DSLR is the easiest tool for good quality images for this subject and situation.

    If medium format manual exposure manual focus (MFMEMF) is insisted upon, set the exposure at something that generally works, and don’t change it. Your exposure results will vary, but so what. The only variables to worry about will then be focus and composition. Composition with kids in action is a crapshoot so just focus and trip the shutter when they enter the zone of sort of sharp focus. Use on camera flash to get aperture a little smaller or shutter speed a little faster.
    paul ron likes this.
  6. paul ron

    paul ron NYC

    take the kids outdoors... the light is better.

    playing on a jungle jim keeps them close, slows them a bit, so your shots are more antisipated. plus, you get interesting bacgrounds n colors.
  7. With respect Sandy; technology has moved on. To provide us with higher ISO speeds than any film ever could, and better colour fidelity under almost any lighting condition. And in a unit that's lighter, faster to use and more flexible than Victor Hasselblad could have ever imagined.

    Why would we not take advantage of the tools that are available? Is it the end result, or the process that's important?

    There's an attraction to both a machine cut and highly polished piece of wooden furniture, and in a rustic old stool hacked out with an adze. But unfortunately you can't hack out the highly polished product with the adze.

    Personally I'd save the 'blad for formal portraits and use something far more suitable for candid snaps.
    Last edited: Mar 23, 2018
  8. Sandy Vongries

    Sandy Vongries Administrator Staff Member

    Thing is, RJ, the OP has a particular piece of equipment and issues. IMO, one tries to supply suggestions that will allow them to achieve their goals rather than suggest other equipment. I am a firm believer in using available technology, but that doesn't stop me from using and enjoying my Dad's M3 Leica or my old film Nikons.
    BTW the finest furniture is still made "one off" by hand.
  9. I am with Rodeo 100%. I used a 'blad system for many years in the film era and was delighted to replace it with a DSLR. I was OK doing what you want with a 35mm film SLR and manual focus, but the 'blad is just not really the thing for what you are doing. Yes, you'll get a few nice shots, but with 10X the waste and effort. FWIW I found a 45 degree prism essential for any kind of fast moving focusing on a 500CM. Following a moving subject with a waist level finder is making life really hard for yourself. Try and find a spot where you can assume the light is constant and don't adjust the exposure every time. You can use a digital camera to see how using a single manual setting will work out: then transfer the exposure to the 'blad.
  10. In thinking about it more, I have a couple of suggestions. Use fast film and a fast lens. Stage it a little bit in that you make sure the room is as evenly lit as possible or use a flash.

    Don't try to duplicate what the technology does, i.e. set focus and exposure for every shot.

    In the end proper focus depends on distance from the camera. There is no need to re-focus for every shot if the distance to the subject hasn't changed. It's OK if your subject is moving as long as the distance between themselves and the camera isn't changing much. Exposure is the same. If you have some control over the lighting so that it's fairly consistent in the area that your shooting, that means you can set the exposure once and leave it. Also, as I mentioned before, especially with negative film, there's a fairly decent margin of error when it comes to exposure.

    I think the bigger problem with moving subjects in lower light levels is going to be shutter speed. You need enough light, a fast enough lens and film to shoot at a decent speed, otherwise your subjects will be blurred whether the focus is right or not.

    Finally, depending on what your goal is, you might be better off with a wider angle shot and then cropping. One of the benefits of medium format film is the huge negative. You can afford to crop and still end up with a better image than 35mm. This means you can use a wider angle lens where focus is not as critical.
  11. Final thought, there are a number of things that make old medium format cameras challenging for this kind of thing. You've addressed the automation piece but another one is the limited number of shots you get on a roll of film. Even with auto everything, when it comes to still photography of moving subjects, a lot of shots are going to be throwaways. That's why motor drives and high capacity film backs came into existence.

    I'm not trying to discourage you. That one really good candid shot you get out of an hour's worth of messing around might be worth it. But you might be better off spending less time worrying about perfect focus and exposure and more time just getting the shot. Do what you can to increase your odds.

    Lastly, know when it's time to put the camera down. Rather than make this a frustrating exercise, take your shots, then play with the kids. If you get one that turns out, that's great. If not, well hopefully you and the kids had fun doing whatever you were doing. As Rodeo says, if it's really important that you get a decent picture quickly and easily, there are better tools.

    One night a couple of months ago I dragged my camera gear out onto a frozen lake. I knew right away the conditions weren't conducive to what I wanted to capture but I wasted two hours trying to get a good picture anyway. I did know enough not to bother with the MF camera. That stayed in the bag.
  12. It’s a challenge for sure. One thing that will likely help some is matching what and how you shoot to the equipment and situation you have. There are all kinds of candid indoor photography that don’t necessarily match the way in which, for example, a street shooter might operate. If YOU are more deliberate in your approach and planning, the kids can be spontaneous while you will be prepared. One option is staying in one place as the kids move around and figuring out non-intrusive ways of getting them into a field of view that works for you and that you’re prepared for. You can also interact with them to the extent they still remain candid even while you manage to exert a bit of control over positioning and action. Since your medium format will never be like a dslr and shooting it will not be like shooting with a dslr, adjust to those distinctions rather than trying to do away with them, which you can’t. Yes, you may miss some particular moments due to the limitations your equipment may impose. So, you make up for that by creating the kinds of moments your equipment will be good at capturing. Aligning equipment, situation, subjects, and your own knowledge and preparedness will creat unique photos you could be very happy with. It won’t necessarily create just the kinds of photos you’d expect from a different combination of equipment, situation, subjects, and photographer.
    Jochen and paul ron like this.
  13. Faced with this sort of situation-whether 35mm or medium format-I use a decently fast print film, pick an exposure that will get "close enough" without motion blur, and worry about focus and composition.

    IF flash is an option, your life is a lot easier as far as exposure. The last time I burned a decent amount of medium format at an event was an aunt's 90th birthday party back in the fall...admittedly there weren't a lot of folks running around fast there. That was before I got my Hasselblad, but was using my Bronica SQ-A(very similar in handling, albeit with the shutter speed dial on the body). In any case, I used a speed grip and had my favorite generic flash-a Metz 36CT3-in the hot shoe of the speed grip. With an 80mm lens, I set the shutter speed to 1/500 and aperture to f/5.6(making the flash the primary source of light) and every frame was perfectly exposed and well lit with the flash bounced off the ceiling or wall. There again, all I had to worry about was framing and composition.

    I'm partial to the Metz, but any generic AA flash like a Vivitar 283 would work great also.

    The speed grip I have for my 500C doesn't have a hot shoe like the one for my Bronica, so the only difference is I'd be running a sync cord to the lens from the flash. This will probably make Rodeo Joe roll his eyes, but now that I have a working Metz 60CT4("potato masher") set-up, I'll probably use that the next time I'm doing the same sort of thing. The 60CT4 is a good two stops more powerful than the shoe-mount 36(which is similar in power to most other shoe mount flashes-a rated ISO 100 GN of 120 or so). I can skip the speed grip, which I don't like on the Hassy as well as I did on the Bronica, although it leaves me with a 5lb battery pack hanging on my shoulder and tethered to the camera.
  14. Use the 35mm auto-all for shots of kids running around.
    But when they stop, make some nice portraits with the ‘blad.
    Use the right tool for the job.
    And, with time and practice, focusing the Hasselblad will get faster and easier.
  15. My best candid portraits, made in India, were shot with a NikonF100, 24mm lens, on full auto.
  16. SCL


    When my family was young and running around, AF wasn't an available option. I learned how to use flash effectively indoors and also to shoot in semi-controlled environments...the playroom, the kitchen, or around static toys in the living room (like a toybox, etc). If you're running after kids, indoors or outdoors, you've lost control of the situation and your keeper rate, AF or MF, is going to suffer. Best to find what captivates snd fixates them and plan your shooting from there.
    Jochen likes this.
  17. This is an example of the wrong tool for the job. Trying to get sharp focus w/ a moving subject in low light w/ a medium format camera that has to shoot wide open w/o AE is not going to work. A 35mm SLR w/ AE and preferably auto focus is what is needed, or a digital equivalent. Motorized film advance will be your friend if you go the 35mm film route.
    Last edited: Mar 29, 2018
  18. Yes, I agree. At the same time I understand why one would want to use a medium format camera in those situations. If you want a genuine film look and a quality large print portrait, medium format is a great way to go. And with kids especially, candid is often better than posed. So while medium format cameras are challenging for all the reasons you and others (including myself) have mentioned, there's been some useful tips in this thread that can help improve the odds.
    1. Try to keep the kids in a confined area
    2. Bring in additional light
    3. Set exposure based on the average light in that area and try to give yourself some depth of field to work with
    4. Focus based on distance, again concentrating on keeping as much of the area in focus as possible
    5. Don't re-focus and reset exposure between shots
    6. Even better: do this outside
  19. I'd take a handheld meter instead of a metering prism any time. Take some incident readings on "the stage" before the session starts and modify your light if needed. Be it with more or less bounced on camera flash (I liked my Metz 60) or some flashes bounced into the corners of the room or rigging up some brighter continuous light.
    I don't see a significant difference between Sunny 16 and remembering that the left chairs are f8 and the right ones f5.6 according to your metering.- You simply have to memorize a lighting map of your room
    Once you know & set your aperture, there is absolutely no speed advantage in an auto exposing camera. The meterless manual one should even make you faster because you don't get distracted by checking doubting and compensating auto exposure.
    Good looking candid shots are usually semi staged? - With primes your options to follow kids running around are limited.... You are basically down to pre-focusing for a certain spot and hoping for the kids to do at least 13 rounds passing it, so you can burn your roll.
    Otherwise manual focus is manual focus, once you got used to turning a chimney findered camera towards the other direction. (Am I the only one dreaming of an option to flip the image on a digital's flippy rear screen, to shoot normally?) I don't see a relevant* difference between shooting my TLRs or Pentacon or anything 35mm. OK, no motorwinders worth mentioning but flashes need recharging time anyhow. *= Yes, MF struggles with less DOF, OTOH you can shoot highest ISO with bearable grain, so it is probably a wash?
    I agree with everybody else that using manual focus on moving kids is a bit masochistic. OTOH: I wasn't as impressed by an F4's AF performance as by contemporary decent digitals', so I honestly don't know if there are any film bodies at all that will nail kids running towards you at f4 indoors.
  20. When I was in high school, having a working meter made no difference at all to me since I knew the EVs for pretty much every indoor venue where I'd find myself. That included the gym, auditorium, classrooms, and hallways at my school and a couple of other schools in town along with several churches and the civic center downtown. Even though I HAD working meters, I quit messing with them. Heck, I impressed the newspaper photographers(who at the time were using D2Hs) in the auditorium by being able to look at which overhead lights and spotlights were on and getting the correct exposure anywhere on the stage.

    These days, I pretty much only know them at work and a couple of places at my church but I imagine I could pick up other places again without a lot of sweat.

    Oh, one other thing-between my junior and senior year of high school they did a light renovation of the gym that included installing more lights and replacing the mixed-vintage bulbs in all the metal halide fixtures. It made a HUGE difference both in brightness and in color consistency across the floor, and I had many conversations with the local newspaper photographers about how nice of a change it was. I was able to consistently use ASA 400 film and not have to mess with 800, and I still managed faster shutter speeds. Unfortunately, when I was there a year or two ago(probably 10 years after the change) I saw that it had lost 1-2 EVs from what I remembered and also had some of the color issues I remembered.

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