This added pressure of wasting money on the film and development means that you become a much more careful photographer. You consider how else each photo could be taken before actually taking it.
Some modern cameras have automatic exposure settings known as shutter speed priority and aperture priority. With shutter speed priority you can select the shutter speed you would like to use and it will automatically select the appropriate aperture. With aperture priority you select the aperture and the camera automatically selects the shutter speed. In tricky lighting conditions, such as the previously mentioned beach or winter photography, these automatic settings should not be used as you will need to overexpose or underexpose which can only be done through manual settings.
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The answer is simple – there’s a lot more to it than meets the eye.
The first thing you’ll notice when you get a roll of black and white film developed (particularly with the brand of film that I use: Ilford HP5 Plus) is that the dynamic range is a lot worse than what you’re used to with digital and colour film.
In order to obtain an acceptable exposure the shutter speed and aperture need to work together; the shutter speed needs to stay open to allow the right amount of light to hit the film and the aperture needs to be opened/closed enough to allow the right amount of light through. To determine the correct setting for the shutter speed and aperture you will use a light meter that can be seen through the viewfinder of the 35mm SLR camera. This light meter is known as a through-the-lens meter. You essentially select the aperture (or shutter speed) you’d like to use and then the meter will help you select the appropriate shutter speed (or aperture) to match. Through-the-lens light meters are typically found in 1 of 4 variations:
most recommend a small aperture (at around f/22 or f/19) but I often mess up my shutter speeds to the point that I usually get a lot of blown-up highlights. That often happens when I use the light meter for exposure in Manual Mode.
A range of shutter speeds with LEDs indicating shutter speed and aperture. Match up the two lights for a solid exposure. A similar version of the previous but with a moving needles instead of LEDs. A circle surrounded by a plus sign or minus sign.
Plus indicates over exposure and minus under exposure. Light up the circle sign for the proper exposure. A similar, but expanded, version of the previous with a larger scale from plus to minus. How a Light Meter Works
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In my post on film photography, I talk in detail about how shooting on film helps to hone your skill. You think a lot more about what you’re doing before taking each photo, rather than wasting a piece of 35mm film.
I urge everyone to start shooting on film as soon as possible. There’s a good chance you won’t be able to experience it in the future.
You want a small f-number, not a small aperture. Your lens is a variable-aperture lens, ranging from f/4 to f/5.6. That means you’ll need to be pretty close to wide-open and pretty close to your subject to get a shallow depth of field (sharp subject, blurry background) at any focal length you have available. What settings to use depends on your film. If you’re shooting a 100/125 speed film, you should have no problem with shutter speeds — you’ll be well within the camera’s limit unless the sun goes nova. With a 400-speed film, you might want to use a heavy filter — something with a filter factor of 4 or better, like a ND 0.6 or a 25A red, or a combination that add up to four or more — in bright light.
35mm film and development is becoming increasingly scarce. This is because some of the major developers are getting rid of their wet labs, only doing digital printing.
For black and white photography with a 35mm SLR camera it’s not as simple as pointing and shooting to take photos. Instead you’ll need to read your light and select the appropriate shutter speed and aperture setting to create a nice exposure for the scene.
Take the photo below for example. I knew when I shot it that the left-hand side of the photo was going to be underexposed and that the right would be overexposed. This actually worked out really well.
Black and white film photography is all of this and more. Normally, when I take black and white photos, I shoot in colour first and convert it afterwards. This gives me more options in post production.
Mistakes can get pretty expensive if you’re not sure what you’re doing with your film camera. This forces you to quickly learn what you’re doing wrong.
The light is harder to control but, when you expose a photo correctly with the light in the right places, the results can be much more dramatic.
Place the gray card in your shot. If taking a portrait have your subject hold the gray card for you. View the card through your camera’s viewfinder and fill the viewfinder with the card. You may move as close as possible to do this but make sure you do not block your light source.
Meter the gray card and set your aperture and shutter speed as necessary. Return to the area you want to take the photo from and take it. What If I Don’t Have a Light Meter?
In the case of a through-the-lens light meter the light meter works by measuring all light coming through the lens and creating a middle gray exposure. This type of meter is known as a reflected light meter. It is important to know in some cases that this middle gray exposure may not provide the correct exposure for black and white photography. For instance, in a bright scene (such as the beach or a winter landscape) the light meter will take a bright scene and turn it into a middle gray thereby darkening the overall image. To compensate for this you simply overexpose your film by setting the aperture and shutter speed according to the light meter and then opening the aperture 1 or 2 f-stops.
I’m trying to get a grasp of this aperture-DOF relationship, so shots that I usually do are focused subject with out of focus backgrounds, something like this:
That being said, there are still places around that do it at a reasonable price to a good standard. But black and white is a lot harder to get done.
I have noticed over the past 2 years that development is getting more expensive. It’s also taking longer to do and film is becoming harder to find. If we take that as a sign of things to come, it doesn’t look too good.
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Once you understand how the film reacts to the light, you can use it as a creative tool in your photography.
Alternatively, you can purchase what is known as a gray card. These cards are designed specifically as a mid gray for your light meter. To use a gray card follow these steps:
I particularly like how the light shining on the back of the subject’s head is emphasised by the dark figure behind him.
If your camera does not have a light meter, or if it is not working, you have a few options. Perhaps the easiest solution is to simply purchase a handheld light meter. You can also follow what is known as the Sunny 16 rule. This rule states that on a sunny day you simply set your aperture to f/16 and your shutter speed to the speed of your film (ISO) or next shutter speed over. So if you have ISO 100 film you would set your shutter speed to 125. The Sunny 16 rule can still be used if it is not a sunny day, please refer to the below cart as an example:
You don’t have this option when shooting on film. So you really have to pay attention to what it is that you want to capture and how it’s going to look in black and white.
I want to mostly do candid shots and I have with me a standard 35-80 zoom lens in a Canon EOS 50 film camera, the subjects often are friends and family so I can get as close as I need to (yep, I need to get so close sometimes because my lens, in a way, sucks).
Quick Guide to Black and White Photography Part 4 – Film Exposure
There are no “correct” settings. The settings you need will depend entirely on the lighting on the day, the subject you’re photographing and what kind of photograph you are trying to produce. Therefore this answer can’t be responded to with anything more concrete than general advice.
Had I shot the photo above on colour film, you’d be able to see the subject with no problem. When shooting on black and white film, it’s important to determine where the light illuminates the subject and work around that.
With this basic understanding of exposure you can shoot your first roll of film. When complete you’ll begin the process of developing the film and printing your black and white photography.
You rely much more on composition, texture, shape and form to create a good photo, so you have to look for this before you shoot, not after.
One of my favourite things about shooting on film is how good skin looks.
I shoot my Canon AT-1 with ISO400 all the time, you don’t need heavy filters to achieve well exposed photos – you need to understand how to read your camera’s built in light meter and how best to configure the settings to achieve the desired result.
The effects produced and the parameters you have to work within are very different from any other type of photography. This can produce some very interesting results – results that you may associate with a much older style of photography.
This still takes about 2 weeks or longer. I’m there regularly for printing anyway so it’s not too much of a problem.
You need to be really careful about this. You’ll find that even landscape shots don’t come out properly, let alone photos of people indoors.
Black and white film in particular makes the skin look great. The natural grain adds texture and detail, while the lack of colour emphasises the tone of the skin.
I’ve written about film photography and I’ve written about black and white photography. You’re probably wondering why I’m writing about black and white film photography.
This really bothered me the first time I got my film back because I didn’t know about it before I shot. I hadn’t adjusted my shooting style to match it.
That is my favourite reason for shooting on black and white film. You’re forced to hone your skills much faster.
It sounds like what you need is to expand on your base knowledge of photography and exposure. I would recommend that you buy a copy of Bryan Peterson’s excellent “Understanding Exposure” which excellently explains the relationship between shutter speed, aperture and ISO and caters for both film and digital photographers.
We have a great post on how to digitize film photos you should check out. Or how about trying our black and photography challenge to keep improving your work!
My nearest lab that will actually develop it in-house is about 25 miles away. This isn’t really a lot of use as the development process itself takes a while. Instead, I take mine to my nearest major lab, who send off for it.
That’s also one of the advantages of the poor dynamic range. The contrast on neutral colours is boosted.
trying to do some “daily shots” thing, and I was wondering what’s the best setting for black and white portraits in areas that are well-lit and sometimes not (fastfoods, restaurants, malls)