A Photo Teacher |

Paper Positive | Negative Portrait

Posted in PHOT 152 by Paul Turounet on May 4, 2011


A wide range of photographic practice developed rapidly in the medium’s early years.  Yet neither landscape, nor still life, nor the variety of scientific practice acquired the aura of magic that the portrait photograph did.  Initially, daguerreotypes (anonymous portrait – left) were considered problematic due to the long exposure times and thus the blurring of the subject, but with improved chemistry for shorter exposure times and devices to hold heads still, the detail of daguerreotype quickly became preferred to the more atmospheric look of the calotype.



A flourishing market in portraiture sprang up, predominantly the work of itinerant practitioners who traveled from town to town. For the first time in history, people could obtain an exact likeness of themselves or their loved ones for a modest cost, making portrait photographs extremely popular with those of modest means.

The work of David Octavius Hill and Robert Adamson encompassed landscape and portraiture, including the calotype portrait of Miss Mary McCanlish, 1843  (right).  Rather than imitating the itemizing detail of the daguerreotype, they composed within the softer forms resulting from the calotype’s paper negative, adapting artistic principles of light and shade (chiaroscuro) to orchestrate the surface with large areas of shadow which suppressed fine detail.  Viewers compared their style to the light and shadow effects found in Rembrandt’s works.




Working in teams of 2 to 3 people, shoot head-shot portraits of each other using a 4″ x 5″ large-format camera and a natural lighting or studio lighting set-up (see diagram for general lighting ratios) or on location to create images that reference the traditions of the early photographic portrait.

Shooting Considerations

Studio – 25 to 30 seconds @ f/5.6 (ISO 12)

On Location | Outside (Full Sunlight) – 1/4 to 1/2 @ f/11 (ISO 6)

On Location | Outside (Shade) – 1/2 or 2 to 4 seconds @ f/11 (ISO 6)




For the critique (see Calendar for Due Date) and evaluation, please complete the following:

Load each film holder with two sheets of pre-cut | sized paper positive | negative photographic materials.

Shoot two images of subject with rear standard in portrait | vertical setting.

Download and process each paper negative in the darkroom.  Once you’ve completed the processing and drying, scan the paper negative using the 4″ x 5″ film holders on the Epson 7000 scanner with a resolution of 1200 ppi as an RGB file.

Optimize and print one of the digital files, including image sizing, image density | contrast | grayscale | hue/saturation and retouching.

One (2) – 4″ x 5″ paper negatives (1) – 4″ x 5″ paper negative of portrait made in the Studio or On Location with the 4″ x 5″ camera.

One (1) – 4″ x 5″ analog contact print of portrait made in the Studio or On Location with the 4″ x 5″ camera.

One (1) – 8-1/2″ x 11″ digital print (image sized to 7″ x 8-3/4″) of portrait made in the Studio or On Location with the 4″ x 5″ camera.

One (1) – 17″ x 22″ digital print of portrait made in the Studio or On Location with the 4″ x 5″ camera.

Turn-in prints in a manila envelope (with exception of large print) for evaluation and feedback.





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