Historical Techniques with Portraiture

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Sep 6, 2020
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I'm not completely certain this is the right forum for this topic, if not just let me know.

Whenever I look at old timey portraits like this 1907 shot of Mark Twain by AF Bradley, I wonder about that depth of field they're achieving. It's my understanding, and please correct me if I'm wrong, that lenses from that era were not fast. Look at the plentitude of 100+ year old street scenes with many-a blurry people due to long exposures.

Is this depth of field perhaps caused by perhaps a lens tilt? Or did they have lenses fast enough to haze out like that??

By the way, I came into the possession of a Busch Pressman Model D 4×5 press camera with many backs. Totally new to me, but want to produce work from it. Does anyone know if there are mods for these? I wouldn't mind wider glass on it.

Mark_Twain_by_AF_Bradley.jpg
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Thanks!
ES
 
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The more I look at this image, the more it looks like a very intentional facial focus like it was painted in. Now I'm wondering if the effect could be produced in the darkroom where the face and everything else could be printed independently, using masks. You could hold the face still for its exposure and then wiggle everything else to create a print-blurr.

Shouldn't a part of his suit be in focus as part of that focal plane if you project down?
 
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One way of achieving sufficient depth of field was to position the person in a chair that had a built-in, hidden brace that helped hold the head and neck still for the long exposures that came with using small apertures. Also, by the time this photo was made, flash had been in regular use for portraits for about 25 years.

You're correct that the lenses weren't fast. More important, the emulsions applied to materials used for the negative also weren't fast by today's standards. However, they were a lot faster when this photo was made than in the earliest days of photography.

To my eye, parts of his left lapel and left sleeve are in focus.
 
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The lenses of this period were fast enough to produce the depth of field visible in this portrait. Especially with the larger film/plate size, which more then likely were used by A.F. Bradley in his NYC studio at that time.

I own some 4x5 press cameras, what type of mods are you referring to?
 
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Interesting!

I would be interested in finding different glass. I don't know if you can modify them to fit anything other than factory lenses. This one is 135 mm and I wouldn't mind going wider.
 
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Jul 8, 2019
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Going longer depends on how far out the bellows will go.
On the press cameras that I've seen, the front cover is the rail, so you can't go much beyond 150mm, maybe 210.

Going shorter depends on how close to the film the camera and lens board will hold the lens.
On my 4x5 I need to use a recessed board to position the 90mm lens closer to the film than the lens board mounts.
Other 4x5 use a bag bellows to allow the front standard and the lens board to get closer to the film. The bag bellows taking up less space than a folding bellows, and used specifically for wide lenses. But only IF the camera has interchangeable bellows.

You have to research the options for your specific camera and model.
 

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