Effendi also appreciates the unexpected nature of the film. “I love the surprises with film. Once you scan it and you’re just, ‘What is this strange color? I have not seen that.’ It’s not Photoshop. It’s not a filter. It’s just something natural that came out in the chemistry of the film. It’s always very nice to discover that. It’s pleasant, but you didn’t construct it.”
From color to black-and-white, 35mm to medium and large format, renowned professional photographers select the films they love. They tell us why and expand on the effects those films have had on their looks and their processes in their careers.
He enjoys that photographers shooting Portra 160 in low light can underexpose by two stops and still have strong images.
There is no best film, just the right film for the right situation and for the right photographer.
“Tri-X Professional 320 ISO rating, but I cut it in half because it makes the shadows richer. Steiglitz and Weston did it. Keep the highlights down and boost the shadows. Overexpose by one stop, under developing by 20%.”
By Brian: Nice writeup! I’ve just got my hands on a rolleichord 6×6 and I’ve been shooting at night using a reciprocity chart and tri-x (o ordered some t-max 100 though because it has less failure). I’ve been using a gossen Luna pro and metering for iso 200 and sticking around f11 .
.. seems my average exposure is something around 95 seconds to 3:30 seconds under average city lights. I haven’t developed any rolls yet and I started second guessing my methods but from reading your post it seems I should just relax and keep on bracketing and experimenting.
Medium Format Color: Kodak Portra 400 Professional – Rena Effendi
35mm Color: Cinestill 50 Daylight Xpro C-41 – Stuart Franklin
The Tri-X, he adds, is “slightly more expensive than Ilford but I’m a grownup, I can afford it.”
Greg Miller prefers Kodak’s films because “they’ve got really good at recording skin tones,” he says. “I’m a portrait photographer, that film is perfect for me. I shoot people and I need to shoot in darker places. Their research and development went into creating film where people can a lot of mistakes and still recover.”
After Kodak announced it would bring back its Ektachrome film, five years after it was first discontinued, TIME LightBox is taking a look at the state of film photography, asking the manufacturers and photographers to explain why they are still backing the analogue format in the digital age.
Surprisingly, he gives an unexpected argument for film: It’s archival. “The one thing we all forget is that film does last. We don’t know with technology how it’s going to change. We continually update our hard drives because technology says we need to but a roll of film is a roll of film, is a roll of film.”
Jocelyn Bain Hogg dives into his stories and sticks with them. His project The Firm, which has matured into The Family, follows the British organized underground crime world. He began the project in 1998 when film was the only option. He has chosen to stick with the medium to keep his photographs visually consistent but his love for the film started when he was 14. “It’s one of those habits,” he tells TIME. “I prefer it to the HP5. You have to think how you’re going to solve a puzzle. There’s something to be said about that learning curve. To have to work harder.”
While he admits that digital works better in low light, he chooses film for its ability to accurately portray light. “It’s very, very special I think. When it comes to outdoors and the brights contrasty light, film is perfect. When you look out at the world a lot of color gets lost or not picked up. What I feel about this film is it is actually getting the colors that I see.”
Large format film can be quite expensive, though. “I’ll buy 100 sheets at a time which is a $1500 purchase when I do it,” he says. “For some people that gives them pause. It’s a lot of money but I try not to think about that because it’ll kill you. The price when I started shooting was $7 a sheet. It’s doubled in that time. But I want to make pictures that are worth way more than that.”
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Magnum photographer Stuart Franklin still shoots a ton of film. “I have done more assignments on film in the last year than I have on digital by a factor of about three.”
Firstly, if you want to try film for night shooting then careful thought has to be put into film choice, most Black and White films suffer what is termed reciprocity failure, this is caused by exposures usually longer than one second, at speeds below this film loses its sensitivity in how it reacts to light, it slows down and compensation needs to be given to the exposure time.
As an example, if I needed to set an exposure of say 40secs at a given aperture, a film such as Kodak Trix 400iso would need the 40secs extended to around 300 secs, now on a cold winters night standing around for that time is not always a practical thing to do.
The other disadvantage is aperture setting, for the majority of my night work I use medium format cameras, 6×6 and 6×9 formats, because of the negative size and its ratio to focal length you will have a narrower depth of field, (areas in and out of focus), wide apertures are not always good to encompass a scene from foreground to infinity, or for zone focusing so it is beneficial to use smaller apertures like f11,16, or even f22 to get that all important depth and clarity into our images.
Using films that have reciprocity failure characteristics forces into into wider apertures to keep the exposure times practical, as another example if the metered exposure was 1.5 mins at f16 with Trix then I would need to expose for 17mins, that’s a long time to be stood about in a dark alleyway at night, (unless you have Rottweiler with you, however, there is a solution, read on.
The solution is called Fuji Acros 100iso, a film that does not suffer from reciprocity failure, at least not up to two minutes, after that you just add plus 0.5 to your exposure, so in the above example of Trix at a metered exposure of 1.
5 mins with Acros would be 90sec, a massive difference.Film has the ability to capture a wider range of tones than a single Digital exposure, you will rarely blow highlights, even in street lamps and the shadows will be open enough to show detail, it has a built-in safe guard called latitude, under or overexpose and you will always be able to bring it back, (that’s providing your not 10 stops over or under) 3 stops, either way, will still yield an editable and printable image.
Another control after exposure is in development, let’s say a normal development time for Fuji Acros in daylight is 10 mins at 20c, to bring down highlight density always under develop by at least 10%, this will have little effect to shadow or mid-tone qualities only the higher regions are slowed down in the development process and keep the densities at usable levels.
Most users of Digital cameras these days use zooms, even fixed lens that does not have a depth-of-field scale on the lens and normally auto focus on something, that’s not a good way of calculating distances, the best way is to use the lens scale that will give the maximum DOF possible for a given lens, in other words, you don’t even have to focus on your subject, set the scale and forget about it, most film cameras prior to auto focus have these scales.
Metering night shots is NOT a nightmare, its relatively simple, you might waste a roll or two on your first outings but believe me after that you will recognize the intensity of light and be able to give a qualified guess erring on more exposure is better than less, by that if you’re unsure and you think it needs 40sec give it another 20sec on top, it will not ruin your shot, (remember the word latitude) always give more exposure than not enough.
Always remember that if the scene has a lot of dark areas in the composition then you’re likely to overexpose and if there is a lot of light areas it will underexpose, you’re in charge and with a little knowledge you can take control of the metering.
So to summaries: 1/Use a film like Fuji Acros 100iso for shorter exposure times with smaller apertures 2/ Remember that film has a wide exposure latitude to under and over exposure, always err on the overexposure.
3/ Use a camera that has a DOF scale on the body.4/Always use a tripod and cable release.5 Use any form of light metering as a guide only, the best meter is your brain and knowledge of bright areas and dark areas within a composition and alter accordingly.
6/ Keep things simple and use only one standard lens, wide lens get to much in and can clutter night compositions.7/Always carry a torch and a small piece of black card, the card is used to cover the lens to stop anything such as car lights ruining a scene, if one is coming into the scene, cover the lens, pause your time when its past remove the card and carry on counting the exposure time.
Most of all be careful at night, Saturdays are the worst in cities, too much booze around, go to areas that you know are safe (ish) never visit alone renowned dodgy areas, always take your mobile, let relatives know where your going, keep warm and enjoy a whole new world of photography.
Get out and have a go Martin
Nicholas Nixon has it down to a science. He has shot most of his work on 8×10 but in his quest for perfection now uses an even larger 11×14 cameras. For him it’s not only the film but how it is shot and processed.
He points out that the developer used to process the film and the paper it is printed on is as important to the look of a photograph as the film itself. Winters processed the film for the image above in Rodinol developer and printed it on Ilford Multigrade Fiber Based, Warmtone Gelatin Silver Paper. “That would be the combo that I would say would warm my heart.”
Portrait photographer Dan Winters chooses the film because of how smart it makes his images look. “It’s a very high acute, it has a great edge effect,” he says. “So there’s the illusion of sharpness that’s actually not even in the image.”
Rena Effendi has experimented with many films, both black-and-white as well as color, but she has found her match. ”I think I kind of have arrived at the Kodak as my film of choice,” she tells TIME. “But I like Kodak Portra now, the normal, the 400. It gives very good results, [it looks] very natural.”