Researching for a novel, professional photography in 1980s

Discussion in 'Photographic Discussions' started by RachelRose53, Dec 2, 2015.

  1. RachelRose53

    RachelRose53 TPF Noob!

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    I have gotten permission to post this here, and hope some of the members will be able to help me.

    One of my characters in my novel-in-progress is a photographer. In the beginning of the story, he is young and making money doing weddings and bar mitzvahs. He also does his own photography, hoping to some day be able to support himself with his "art" photography alone. He does end up becoming known for his personal photography, but he also begins to get work doing fashion photography and advertising and it is this that he makes his name doing. I need to write him convincingly and what has been difficult is that the period of time he is actively in the story is during the 1980's. So, I'm assuming pre-DSLR, pre Photoshop. I have him sending his wedding stuff out for processing and doing his own black and white developing on his personal work. There's a lot of detail I am missing, and maybe you all can help me:

    1. What gear would he have had to have for wedding photography in the early 1980's? I am thinking Nikon, but what model was considered the standard among pro's at that time?

    2. He also sets up a studio, again, 1982 or thereabouts. He intends to start doing some portrait work. What would he buy in terms of lights, soft boxes, strobes, whatever. A basic studio for someone just setting up. BONUS QUESTION if I get really lucky - if any of you were in the NYC metro area then, where would he have looked for a space? What would have been the "hip" place to have a studio and what would have been a place where someone who couldn't afford "hip" look?

    3. As he becomes more successful (mid-late 1980s) what kind of gear would he add? He's now doing fashion work and ads exclusively.

    So, that's a start. Anything anyone could throw out to help me would be much appreciated. I know some of you were adults in the 1980s, because I was!

    Fingers crossed and thanks in advance.

    Robin


     
  2. 480sparky

    480sparky Chief Free Electron Relocator Supporting Member

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    I used a pair of 35mm camera for the candids, and a Mamiya 645 for the formals and important stuff. I had a Sunpak 322 for fill lighting, and a 522 for the main.

    I used a Mamiya RB67 for studio work, with Novatron lighting.

    Back-up gear, additional lighting / background equipment and props.
     
  3. RachelRose53

    RachelRose53 TPF Noob!

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    Thanks for the info. The Sunpaks are a help. I am going to look up Novatron. It would help me to know exactly what he might have bought for that first basic studio setup.

    I think I am going to have him own 2 used Nikons, maybe an F (his first camera) and an F2. Who was making good third party lenses for Nikons at that time?

    It's so easy to research all of this for this time period. Very hard for decades ago. You can read about photographers of the time, but rarely is gear mentioned. I wish I knew someone who was working professionally in the metro area at that time, but I don't.

    Still open to other suggestions.
     
    Last edited: Dec 3, 2015
  4. tirediron

    tirediron Watch the Birdy! Staff Member Supporting Member

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    Vivitar was the only third-party maker of any consequence at this time, but they were geared primarily toward the consumer/tourist market. I doubt if he would have had anything other than Nikon lenses; older, 'E' and 'Pre-Ai' lenses, bought used, but Nkkkor nonetheless. For this studio the most likely choices are Speedotron or Novatron.
     
  5. RachelRose53

    RachelRose53 TPF Noob!

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    This is really very helpful! What would be the basic studio gear in terms of reflectors, soft boxes, etc.
     
  6. Gary A.

    Gary A. Been spending a lot of time on here!

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    Most pros I knew at the time didn't use third party lens, most third party were pretty crappy as were zooms. I suggest Nikkor lenses and no zooms. The better wedding photogs I knew used Hasselblads. Remember that shooting film, unlike digital, most photogs felt the camera was little more than a box. It was recognized that it was the lenses which separated the men from the boys. Metz, the potato masher, was a popular portable flash unit often coupled with a medium format camera. Many pros during that time switched from the larger potato mashers to the Vivitar 283. It was smaller, it was flexable for bouncing, it had it's own bounce attachment and it had a sensor for automatic flash.

    For event photography requiring flash, one used a portable battery pack that you slung over a shoulder and plugged into the flash.
     
  7. RachelRose53

    RachelRose53 TPF Noob!

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    I think he will get to a Hassleblad soon after he sets up his studio, and before he temporarily fades from the story in the late 1980s, only to reappear after he dies a few decades later after achieving some fame. If he were to buy a Hassleblad in the early to mid 1980s and bought it used, would it make sense that he buy a 500 C, or a newer 2000?
     
  8. TCampbell

    TCampbell Been spending a lot of time on here!

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    When I did weddings in the 1980's we used Hasselblad 500 C/M bodies. Hasselblad was (and still is) very high end gear, but they were somewhat popular among high-end professional photographers. Another high-end camera was the Rolleiflex -- this is a "twin lens reflex" camera made by Rollei. These cameras are held at stomach or chest level and the photographer looks "down" into them (you can do that with a Hasselblad body too.) But the photographer is looking at the focusing screen through the upper lens and the camera is shooting the image using the lower lens. Both the lenses move when the photographer focuses the camera. I also knew photographers who used "645" cameras (meaning that the film negative is 6cm wide by 4.5cm tall) such as the Mamiya 645.

    One important detail... most of these high-end camera did NOT have built-in light meters. The photographer used an external hand-held light meter. However many of them had an optional view-finder that DID have a built-in light meter (but these weren't included with the camera... you paid extra to get one.) Our studio cameras had the 45ยบ angle prism with built-in meter and I still have a Mamiya 645 on the shelf behind me and it has the optional prism finder with built-in light meter.

    If you're shooting an evening or indoor event (such as a wedding or wedding reception) then virtually every serious photographer that I knew had a "flash bracket" which mounted the flash high above the camera lens (instead of mounting it to the top of the camera body). This was to eliminate red-eye and also make sure all shadows stay low. The flash bracket was pretty much a professional thing -- non pros usually did not have them. We did use electronic photo flash in the 1980's (we were no longer using single-use flash bulbs).

    Anyway, back to the Hasselblad... these are camera bodies that have interchangeable film magazines (the "back" of the camera snaps on or off and the "back" is loaded with film. When the film roll (120 or 220 film which produces a 2.14" (6cm) square film negative is spent, you snap off the back, snap on a back loaded with fresh film and keep shooting (while your assistant reloads the magazine with more film.) The film magazine has a "dark slide" (a thing metal plate that slides in to cover the part of the magazine that would normally face the camera. This way the film isn't exposed to the light when the magazine is removed from the camera. When we snap on a back, we pull out the dark slide and put it in our pocket. When we swap magazines we slip the dark-slide back in, snap off the back, grab a fresh back, and pull the dark slide out of that magazine.

    The camera is an SLR and it does have removable lenses... but in these days zoom lenses are not particularly high quality so so serious professionals only use prime lenses. The normal focal length prime for a medium format camera body like a Hasselblad is the 80mm (Zeiss lenses -- back in a time when owning a Zeiss lens actually meant something.)

    Special effects (and yes we did do special effects) were typically done via double-exposures. We used a matte-box. This a black box that attaches to the front of the lens. It's open at the front, has a lens-sized hole at the back (where it attaches to the lens) and the top of the box is hinged. When you open the box you'll see lots of ribs into which you slide the "mattes". These are basically a thick black card-stock and they've been cut out in the shape of something interesting. The inside of the matte box is flocked black to eliminate any light reflections.

    For example... we had mattes that looked like a keyhole so ... when you take the photo, it looks like you put the camera to a keyhole to spy on the people in the room.

    A common double exposure we did involved using a matte that had the lower-right corner cut open and the upper left corner was blocked. We would take a photo of the ceremony from a choir loft looking down on the ceremony. Since the camera has the aforementioned removable film magazines (film backs) we would then slip the dark slide into the back and remove it from the camera -- setting it aside (swap on a different back and keep shooting.) Important detail... we remove the back BEFORE we advance the film and wind the camera shutter (cocking the shutter) for the next shot.) This means that the frame of film we just exposed is STILL in position to take the next shot (without having advanced.)

    AFTER the ceremony, we'd put that matte box back on the camera, but this time we'd flip the matte upside down so that the upper left half is now open and the lower right is blocked. We'd find that same film magazine from that earlier shot, put it on the camera, and now we take a shot of the bride and groom looking down toward the lower right.

    The rather cheesy effect this creates is a single photograph with a bride and groom looking down on their own wedding ceremony (yes... this was a popular shot.)

    There was another somewhat popular double-exposure... this one puts the reflection of the bride and groom into a wine glass. To take this shot, we had a nice wine glass, but the inside of the glass was painted with black paint -- so it's not actually transparent. At the reception, we would take the bride's bouquet and place it on the table with the wine glass placed directly in front. We would take a photo of this with the wine glass in the center of the frame. We would slip in the dark slide, remove the film magazine, wind the shutter, put the film magazine back on the camera and pull the dark slide (so we've cocked the camera for the next shot WITHOUT advancing the film) and grab that matte box again. This time we slip in a matte that has an oval shape just about the size of that wine glass placed in the middle of it (the opening is actually just slightly above center.) We'd take a photo of the bride & groom holding each other close as viewed through the hole in our matte. The result of this is a photo in which you see the bride's bouquet with a wine glass in front... and it looks like there's a reflection of the bride & groom in the glass (except a proper reflection would be distorted due to the curvature of the glass). It was a very shot and couples liked it.

    We also used effects filters. If the wedding was shot in a venue (usually a church) with a lot of candles (and usually they were) then we'd put on a "star light" filter (cross-screen filter). This is a glass filter with fine wires embedded in the glass to create a screen-door effect (except the wires are considerably more spaced out... probably about 1/4" apart). When you take a photo with such a filter, every "point" source of light is turned into a 4-point star (diffraction spikes) creating a beautiful effect. Cross-screen filters are still sold today (I still have a 4 point and 6 point version in my camera bag but today it's finely etched grooves in the glass instead of wires.)

    Another common effect was the "misty filter" (aka "spot diffusion" filter). This filter has gently rippled glass all the way around the periphery, but the center of the filter is clear flat glass. The filter produces a photo of the bride in which she is tack-sharp in focus, but her surroundings (preferable plant foliage and flowers) are all pleasantly blurred. This is not quite the same as using a shallow depth of field ... because things are blurred -- but only gently -- regardless of distance. It looks like a photo of someone in a dream-like or "misty" state. If you're on a budget, the photographer would take a clear glass filter (usually they'd use their UV/Skylight/Haze/1A filter) and they'd carry some vaseline with them. They'd dab their finger in the vaseline and then smear a light layer of it all the way around the periphery of the glass -- leaving the center area clear. The thin layer of vaseline would create just enough distortion to approximate the same effect (but on a much tighter budget.)

    I should mention that it was also possible to create the effect of a double exposure in the darkroom. We could either "sandwich" two negatives together in the photographic enlarger... OR we could use a piece of card stock to mask off an area of the photo paper so that image only exposes the un-masked areas -- then swap the mask (the mask needs to be held several inches above the paper surface so you get a soft fuzzy transition from one area to the next. If you lay the card stock directly on the paper then you don't get a soft-transition.

    As a pro-studio shooting color (and every wedding photographer would have shot in color in the 1980s -- nobody did black & white -- nor (major pet peeve) did we have prints with washed-out "aged" looking prints (if the images came back with poor washed-out color, we'd be upset with the lab.) Speaking of labs... professional wedding photographers shooting color didn't develop their own prints... they sent everything out to a pro lab.

    If a client had a blemish that needed to be covered, the "proofs" (small drug-store sized prints that the clients could use to select the pictures they wanted) would reveal the blemishes, but the lab employed artists who could air-brush out any blemish ... so the 16x20" that they want to hang on the wall won't have any blemishes in them. That was the 1980's version of "Photoshop".
     
  9. Gary A.

    Gary A. Been spending a lot of time on here!

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    The camera was considered just a box. A used C/M would be a much better value than a newer 2000 ... both used the the same film(s) so minimal if any differences in IQ.

    The difference between the 500 C/M and 2000 is the 2000 had a focal plane shutter. The 500C/M had a leaf shutter allowing higher flash syncs, but each lens had to come with a shutter.

    If he had a few bucks he might even spring for the EL/M, a motorized version. The motor advanced would be quite useful for action/fashion images, but unnecessary and actually detrimental (vibrations), for static studio work. The MF reflex cameras had huge mirrors that gave a solid wallop when the mirror swung out of the light path. Most photogs would flip/release the mirror prior to taking the picture. The Hasselblad mirrorslap is quite loud.
     
  10. sabbath999

    sabbath999 No longer a newbie, moving up!

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    1) I used a pair of Hassy 500C's, had about 10 120 backs for them, and used a 3 light Speedotron Brown Line setup. The "cheaper" photographers usually shot 35mm but I was medium format all the way (remember, 35mm was considered a "miniature" format by old-school shooters).

    2) Brown Line was the most affordable pro-quality light setup. Umbrellas and light boxes were common, but pretty much anything you can use today was around then (except ring flashes, I never remember seeing one back in the day)

    3) Pro photographers back in the day were not gear-fiends. Basically they bought what they needed and then used it until it fell apart. The GAS (gear acquisition syndrome) thing is an amateur thing. Pro shooters bought good stuff to start with, and stuck with it for many years. A friend of mine who was a pro-shooter in the 1970's-2000's used the same cameras the ENTIRE time, as in the same EXACT cameras. What people would add is more lighting, RAIL mounting systems for the lights, stuff like that...
     
  11. Derrel

    Derrel Mr. Rain Cloud

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  12. RachelRose53

    RachelRose53 TPF Noob!

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    Yes, when I asked if this question was appropriate to post, it was suggested that I might post in both places. sabbath999, your reply was very helpful, thank you so much.
     

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