"portrait film"

Discussion in 'Film and Processing' started by tbarrent, Oct 24, 2020.

  1. IS there a genuine, high grade portrait film for black and white film? I mean, a black and white equivalent of portra
  2. How do you want it to look?

    Sharp and gritty? Smooth tones? High/low contrast?

    There are a lot of variables with black and white, choice of developer will play a big role, in addition to the choice of film. Paper choice will also have a role in the look of the final print.

    The format used will also have a very significant influence on the results, in that grain will be much finer for the same print size when shooting medium format as opposed to 35mm.

    Give us some idea as to what you're looking for and we can recommend a few starting points, but, as is always the case with black and white, you're going to have to experiment to get the look you want.
  3. Would offer a pencil retouching friendly carrier and come in 13x18cm or 8x10" Otherwise I wouldn't know why you shouldn't load whatever you like assuming it is panchromatic.
    The color stuff sells via flattering skin tone rendering, right? - Few people see their co-humans in black and white and could tell if HP5 is closer to their impression than TriX. - To me BW would always be "abstraction".
    steve_gallimore|1 likes this.
  4. A film with an extended red sensitivity tends to give smoother-looking skin tones than does one with a more blue bias.

    This is probably why red-heavy incandescent lighting is preferred by many old-school portrait photographers.

    Having said that, almost any old panchromatic film, coupled with almost any old lighting, will do the same job if you fit a red filter to the camera lens.

    And you'll get more noticeably smoother tones by moving up to medium format than by using any 35mm film.

    Try FP4+ or T-Max 100 in a 6x7 camera.
    peter_fowler and Jochen like this.
  5. Yes, extended red sensitivity often helps with portraits. It can often minimize minor skin blemishes. The late Monte Zucker when he began using digital would take a color image and separated the file into RGB and keep just the red channel. I remember seeing some of his work in Shutterbug magazine. I've never really tried portraits with a red filter, though. Usually I don't use a filter at all.
    But to return to original topic: when I sometimes take a portrait (at least informal ones) I prefer to use a fast film like Tri-X or HP5+ and rate it at E.I. 200 and cut back on developing a bit. YMMV.
    Jochen likes this.
  6. If shooting LF, I suggest TXP 320 and don't look back. It has a rather unique tonal curve among current production film with a very long "toe." It also has the correct backing for hand retouching if you're so inclined. It's one of my favorite general studio films for LF. There's still some old stock 220 kicking around, but it hasn't made since I think 2010 or 2012, and it's been made in 120 in a fair bit longer than that.

    If Plus-X were still around, I'd suggest that, but it's not. FP4+ on paper seems similar, and I shoot a lot of it, but it seems to me like it has a lot more "bite" that I can't really put my finger on than Plus-X. I don't particularly like Tri-X for portrait work inside, although I have done some outside with it.
  7. ive used the hp5 c-41 film, it is nice, however im more thinking on the lines of "really good film i can develop at home"
  8. HP5+ is a traditional black and white emulsion, you're confusing it with XP2 Super, which is a C-41 monochrome film.
  9. Since there aren't variable contrast color papers, you have to get closer with the negative.
    Films like Portra are supposed to have about the right contrast.

    With black and white, and VC paper, you can get any contrast you need to get
    it to look right.
  10. Your lighting, developing and printing technique, along with the camera format, will have far more effect than which film you choose.

    Not to mention your rapport with the sitter. (Easier if you have a waist-level finder and you're not hiding behind an eye-level finder.)

    No such thing as a pre-packaged great portrait. You have to work at it!
    bgelfand likes this.

  11. As i dont print, dont have the equipment, Im just focused on the film aspect. I dont see the rapport with the person sitting for me as an important consideration. Its rather hard to get people to sit these days.
  12. Well, as I said, there aren't VC color papers.

    But if you print from digitized images of negatives, you can process them all you want, including contrast, and then print from that.
    All you need is a nearby (or mail order) lab to print from digital files.

    Many print on silver halide based paper, so the result looks the same.
    bgelfand likes this.
  13. Hmmm...like Portra? I canโ€™t think of anything. Films that I have used for portrait work include Ilford FP4, Ilford HP5 and Ilford XP2. Depends on the look you want. They all have different grain and contrast.
    bgelfand likes this.
  14. Several have mentioned Ilford XP2.

    IMHO, it's a fantastic film -- the C41 process means dye clouds instead of grain. It is sooo creamy1
    peter_fowler and Dave Luttmann like this.
  15. the c-41 film is pretty damn nice. However i cant process it myself.
  16. Returning to my original question, if you give us some idea of what you're looking for, we can better recommend specific films.

  17. Wow! That's some admission.
    Are you just taking identity photos?
    Of course you can. There are 3 bath C-41 kits available that are no more difficult to use than a standard B&W dev/stop/fix process.

    The type of film really isn't that important. It's what you do with it.
    Tri-X in a 5"x4" camera, FP4plus in a 120 TLR, or T-max 100 or XP2 in a 35mm camera; all can give fine portraits. And the final results would probably be near impossible to tell apart in a 10"x8" print.
  18. I don't do portraits often, but when I do, I spend time chatting with the person while I'm also tweaking the lights, dialing in exposure after changing lighting, etc. Of course it's easier if I know the person already, which I often do, but I'll still make small talk with anyone. I'll also intentionally drag out all the tweaking, etc, if it means "cracking the shell" on the subject.

    Even just having a basic level of rapport, to me, makes for a much more engaging portrait than having a bored, disinterested person on the other side of the camera.

    Sometimes speed trumps that(i.e. you can't spend 10 minutes on every one when you have to get 20 done in an hour), but I don't and don't want to do that kind of work. I've seen photographers that DO high volume work who can do an amazing job of engaging their subject, getting their photo, and then sending them on all in the space of a minute or two, but I don't have that skill.

    To that point, the times I've taken portraits with a 4x5 camera, I have a ready-made reason to slow things down and also many people want to know more about that "weird looking camera" with "the cloth over the back just like old time cameras" even if I'm using a relatively new monorail. Even MF can be a talking point since Hasselblads and the like are different from anything the subject may have seen(or if not they realize what it is and may want to talk to you about it) and a Pentax 67 can provoke a "Wow, that's the biggest camera I've ever seen" reaction.
  19. As it has been mentioned above, there is no b&w film specialist for poratriture... some prefer fine grained, soft looking, others prefer harsh grained images, etc.

    So I'd instead search for a b&w film with optimal scanning results.

    I only scan film in low res for archive purposes, so I cannot say about the best film to be scanned. But I have experienced that some films scan better than others. I'd say fine grained softer films work better with my scanner (V750Pro) than the opposite... there are films that are ugly for scanning. I use to wet-print my negatives so cannot say with confidence.
    If I were right, a film like FP4+ sufficiently exposed, and correctly developed in D76 or similar to avoid burnt highlights should work.
    If you establish a portrait routine in a controlled environment, say a studio or whatever to keep the right contrast, and a tested development, results should be satisfying. This way you can easily modify your procedures for the best scans if needed.
    Last edited: Oct 27, 2020

Share This Page