I have always been a great fan of Yousuf Karsh. While some might argue about his work, his mastery of photographic techniques should be undisputed, especially when it comes to black and white. The quality of his prints is amazing which, of course, is partially due to his use of large format camera equipment.
A while ago I decided to see how close in terms of sharpness, tonality and overall look I could come by using a Leica. I chose my Leica M6 with a 135mm f/2.8 Elmarit. As a film I used Agfapan APX 25 which I still consider one of the best 35mm black and white films ever to run through my camera. While Kodak Technical Pan might have shown a bit higher resolution, I felt that the Agfapan was superior in terms of overall tonality. The film was rated at ISO 25 and developed in Agfa Rodinal 1:100 for 16 minutes with continuous agitation.
The photograph was taken in an all white (walls, floor and ceiling) studio with Broncolor studio flash equipment. Exposure was determined with a Gossen Lunapro F light meter in both incident and reflective mode.
The main rim light was done with an open, undiffused reflector positioned to the back of the subject, slightly to the left. The light reading was via incident mode and the camera adjusted to render a +2 1/2 stop overexposure. The fill light was a second light source with a large soft box positioned in the front to the left of the camera and carefully positioned to render the reflections off the skin. Exposure was taken with a reflective spot reading directly off the skin and the output of the flash adjusted to render a -1 1/2 stop underexposure.
Even though the photograph was taken in an all white studio, the background was far enough back to have no effect on the exposure and thus turned out to be virtually black.
This photograph is a prime example why the ability to use a light meter correctly is very important, even with digital photography. One might possibly be able to come up with a similar result just by using the instant feedback of a digital camera screen, but to do so is nothing more than photography by trial and error. I prefer to use my camera equipment in a manner that predicts the outcome with the largest amount of certainty possible.
Did I come close to the excellence of a Karsh portrait? You be the judge.