Researching for novel, Professional Photography in the 1980s

RachelRose53

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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
 

killerseaguls

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Research LaChapelle. Famous photographer in the 80s that I believe started in NYC


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dxqcanada

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Young, little money, 1980's ... the Canon AE-1 was the SLR in the early 80's. Highly advertised.
If they started with that and upgraded the body, it would be to the F-1n.
Pro portrait shooter would have a Hasselblad 500 C/M
 
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RachelRose53

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Yes, killerseagulls, LaChapelle is one of the people I've looked at, but there's really nothing that gives me much detail on his gear and studio. He is definitely someone I am using to get a feel for what was going on at that time.

dxqcanada, thank you for those specific suggestions. I was surprise you said Canon. I was expecting Nikon, maybe the F2, for some reason.
 

tirediron

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The Nikon F2 would certainly have been a contender at this time, but he would have bought a used one if he had one (or two).
 
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RachelRose53

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That feels right to me, after looking at both. I know he needs to have two camera bodies. Two used F2's feels like what he would have. Or maybe he has one F2 and a used F, which would have been his first camera. Would lenses have been interchangeable for both?
 

tirediron

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Any Nikon F mount lens of the time. Probably a 50mm f1.4, an 85mm f1.8 ('cause he couldn't quite afford the 1.4 yet), a 135 f3.5, and probably a 28mm f2.8.
 
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RachelRose53

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This is exactly the kind of detail I need. Thank you. What basic lighting, reflectors, and such would he have brought along with him to weddings?
 

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RachelRose53 said:
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

1.Weddings were usually done using a medium format rollfilm SLR, for "the quality", on Kodak VPS color negative film, often down-rated to ASA 100 from the specified ASA 160. Most people would have paired that with a 'potato masher' type handle mount flash, with the Metz 45 series being "the best one", the Sunpak 622 Super being a bit more powerful and less costly. Weddings were NOT shot "available light" then very much. Camera? Hasselblad 500/C or 500 C/M; I cannot recall when the C went to the C/M. The Bronica SQ was a Japanese Hassy knock-off, better-engineered, less need for maintaining due to more plastics, and self-lubricating plastic-on-plastic type gearing. Lenses? 80mm f/2.8 normal for the Hassy or Bronica; a 150mm telephoto lens. Maybe a 50mm wide-angle lens.

For weddings in the early 1980's, weekenders might have shot a 35mm Nikon FE with an MD-11 or MD-12 motor drive (3.5 fps approximately). AS SOON AS IT CAME OUT with the 1/200 flash synch, the Ninon FM-2 became popular for bright-light weddings with fill-flash. The Nikon FE-2 became a VERY popular flash camera in the early mid-80's, due to TTL flash metering and control AND the then-incredible 1/250 flash synch speed, which was matched by the FM-2(n) body. Nikon SB-16 would be the flash of choice for a TTL-camera person. In those days, 82-86, the Vivitar 285 HV flash was the shizz; Sunpak's 383 was similar, and nicer, more features, but less popular.

Cameras did not change nearly as fast in the 70's and 80's as they do today! The Pro flagship models had 8-year runs, basically. SO...there was a lot of overlap. Nikon was vastly more popular than Canon until 1992 I would say. Nikon's F2A came out in 1977, but I knew working photogs in the late 1987 era still using the F2A or F2As, even though the F3 and F3HP had been out for a few years. THe smaller,lighter, cheaper Nikon FM and FE, introdyuced in '77, were very popular, even with pro's who liked the smaller,lighter body, and the better flash synch speed and the easy-to-handle lighter motor drives MD-11 and MD-12.

The big,new thing in the 80's was the invention of the Quantum Battery-1 for wedding and news/event flash, and in the mid-80's the Quantum Turbo. Paired with the Vivitar 285-HV flash, these things changed event shooting toward much faster flash capability. COLOR FILM was mostly shot at 100 ASA, or lower then!

2.-Studio lighting in the early 80's was virtually ALL box-and-cable, aka pack-and-head stuff; monolights were not used at that time. If he had enough cash, he would have had Speedotron Black Line power packs, and 102 fan-cooled flash heads and umbrellas. Photogenic Machine Company, another USA company, had the FlashMaster and the Porta-Master flash units; the PortaMaster was sort of a mini-pack and stand and modifier deal for on-the-go but with AC Power guys. If he was lower-rent, he likely would have had Speedotron Brown Line packs, and M90 and M11 and MW3U flash heads. Speedotron and Photgenic pretty much had a lock on the USA's professional studio lighting market in the early-to mid-1980's. Monolights were very few and far between even as late as 1987. He almost assuredly would have had Bogen light stands. Maybe a stand or two from Helix, the Chicago retail front of the Speedotron Corporation. he might have had silvered, metallized Speedotron unbrellas. Softboxes were NOT very common until the 1986-87 time frame, and MANY people had wooden or DIY "softlights". Broncolor would be the high-end brand, imported from Europe; ProFoto was new, and had a very tiny slice of the pie as late as 1988. In the 1980's, there was a lot of use of 16 and 20-inch parabolic reflectors on flash heads from Speedotron and from Phgotogenic. BIG umbrellas, like 60-inchers, were NOT common like they are now.

He would have shot Ektachrome 64 Professional 120 rollfilm in-studio I think, most of the time, maybe Ektachrome 100 Professional in the mid-80's and later. For 35mm, PLus-X Pan, or Kodak Tri-X 400 ASA. Film was rated in ASA, and spoken of in ASA until the 1990's by virtuallyt everybody. He would have shot his adverts still life/tabletop on a 4x5 view camera for most jobs, 8x10 for liquor ads. Brands, Sinar, Linhof. Film, Ektachrome 64 Professional mostly.
The Mamiya RB67 was a popular studio camera in the 80's: it is great on a tripod, awkward for weddings compared to the Hassy.

A number of wedding guys used the Mamiya C330 and C330-Professional and 65/80mm lens sets for weddings...the TLR was a good wedding camera, but the Hassy reloaded easier and much faster.

If you want to know what he would have had, look into some of the Gary Bernstein books on portraiture, released in the 1980's. Modifiers; the Halo, perhaps some stuff made by Larson Enterprises, like the Starfish, and Larson reflectors. By the laster 1980's, the Dean Collins "panels" like P-22 and P-48 panel and fabrics were all the rage for scrim lighting, using the Collins-inspired Chroma Zones system.

A "successful" studio shooter would have added the HoseMaster fiber optic lighting setup when it came out, and he would have had Chimera-brand softboxes ( research the date on that).
 
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vintagesnaps

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Maybe try looking up photography magazines etc. from that era; if they're still in publication they may have archives. I don't know that there would be interviews of the average wedding/portrait photographer but you might find articles to give you some ideas.

Found this - if nothing else they've got the hairdos! Some early on is NSFW, but about 3 minutes in there are some pretty good looks at the studio (although this seems to be more fashion/commercial so I imagine there might be more equipment than typical - and the video gets kind of off track near the end, but there is beer and smoked gator).

 
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RachelRose53

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Derrell, that's treasure trove of info for me. Thank you! And thank you for the video link, vintagesnaps - in fact it was good for me to remind myself of those hairstyles. Easy to forget how different we all looked back then…

I also searched on Brian King, and came upon a YouTube of him using Sitex imaging in the late 1980's which might be an interesting thing for my character to know of and have an opinion about. All these small details bring stories alive.
 

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From my personal experience, he has an even younger assistant after he graduates from weddings. He would yell and berate said assistant mercilessly until the assistant leaves to work in a photo lab.




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RachelRose53

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Yeah, he is going to have an assistant, but he isn't going to berate him.

I think he might have someone with him for weddings as he gets more work, to hold lights and hand him lenses and stuff.
 

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