DPP Home Profiles Douglas Kirkland: From 8x10 to Digital and Back

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Douglas Kirkland: From 8x10 To Digital And Back

In an illustrious career that has spanned more than four decades, Douglas Kirkland has always embraced new technology. So why is he using an 8x10 view camera and film for some of his current work?

This Article Features Photo Zoom

Herbie Hancock in Beverly Hills.
I want to keep them interested and not allow them to become impatient with the process. I tell them, “I’ve got to check focus,” and then I go under the cloth with a loupe as briefly as possible. If I’m in Europe, I’ll tell them that I have about one centimeter of depth of field to work with, and if I’m in the States, we have about a quarter of an inch. So they understand that to get this photo they’re going to have to stay very still.

Even when I shoot with the Canon, I don’t bring a monitor on set. People have a monitor and everyone gets so fixated on it that you lose control of the shoot. They say, “Oh, you’ve got that. Don’t shoot anymore.” Or “You should do this or you should do that.” I don’t want any of that. I treat it like film.

DPP: You’ve done a number of portraits of major international stars such as Nicole Kidman with the 8x10 and more recently the stars of Italian cinema. What is it about these people that makes you choose the 8x10?

Aboriginal actor David Gulpilil on the set of Australia.
Kirkland: My wife Françoise suggested that we do something different when we were getting ready to go to photograph for the movie Australia. She thought in addition to my SLR, I should use the 8x10 because it gives such a romantic look. We were going to be on location in the northwest of the country for seven weeks. For the movie itself, I used the Canon EOS-1Ds Mark II. Before one of the scenes, I asked Nicole Kidman to do an 8x10 shoot with me. I found a place under a tent and used a reflector. Selecting the place where I photograph is, of course, very important. I prefer to work with natural light and reflectors rather than strobes. A lot of photographers could get much better pictures if they really “look” at the light. Sometimes by stepping one step to the left or right or forward or backward, you can suddenly find a wonderful light. The reality is you have to look with a camera eye. Many people fail to do that; they get so excited or nervous or carried away by the subject matter, they don’t really “see” their image.

DPP: How many film sheets might you expose in this type of session?

Kirkland: I expose a minimum of four to a maximum of eight sheets of TRI-X 320. I consider myself a minimalist. I come from the world of photojournalism. We don’t carry truckloads of equipment. For the 8x10, I use a modern Gitzo tripod with a ballhead. I’ll often also use a wonderful one-foot-square Litepanels that works off of batteries and doesn’t weigh much. It’s daylight-balanced, and that can be adjusted by sliding in gels. There’s a newer version with adjustable Kelvin color temperatures.

DPP: How is the process of exposing so few images when doing a major photo session different than the typical D-SLR approach?

All of the images in this article were made with an 8x10 view camera. Shooting at wide-open apertures, Kirkland limits the depth of field and creates a unique, almost ethereal look. While that look can be somewhat mimicked by using a D-SLR, only an 8x10 and film will get it exactly right.

Kirkland: It’s a different mentality, but that’s all part of the process. It’s working like a painter. You have to create the image by directing your subject. Australia is such a phenomenal place because of its people and its landscapes. One of my favorite images from the trip is of an Aboriginal man who was in the film as well. While I would shoot the portraits wide open, for the landscapes I did stop way down and often used a deep red filter, a 25A, for a darker, dramatic sky. All the film was brought back to Los Angeles for developing, so I didn’t see the results for weeks.


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