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.
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 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.
The answer is simple – there’s a lot more to it than meets the eye.
1. Push process film. When you shoot at ISO 6400 you are pushing the sensor and amplifying the captured light. The same thing can be done with film as with digital, with increased grain rather than noise.
35mm CineStill 800T Myth 2. “Shooting fun party shots on film is a bad idea”
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.
2. Use flash. So many digital photographers use flash and claim that it is an advantage on digital. This is simply not true. Flash actually performs much better on film, since objects closer to the flash are overexposed and won’t completely blow out on film. Film has much greater latitude and flexibility than digital.
Rarely, a camera may fail and in the heat of shooting the photographer may screw up and not catch it. With film, it’s easy to shoot a second lightweight film camera for backup images. Or dare I say, a digital backup camera. And as a side note; sometimes a film “screw up” can make a great happy accident rather than no image at all on digital. Film rarely turns out blank or unusable, since light is actually being permanently charged to a single use capture.
Once you understand how the film reacts to the light, you can use it as a creative tool in your photography.
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.
5 Myths Photographers Will Tell You About Film, or: Why Film Isn’t Afraid of the Dark
35mm CineStill 800T (same exposure on the same roll as below) 35mm CineStill 800T (same exposure on the same roll as above) 35mm CineStill 800T
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.
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.
Film can perform under natural light in ways that are very difficult to replicate any other way. Which is why a lot of natural light photographers covet film, and try to emulate it even if they don’t always utilize it. But again, the capture medium does not change the light. You can find good light or create your own. Capture it any way you choose, just make sure you expose correctly.
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.
Kodak Portra Films CineStill Film Ilford Delta 3200 Adox Films Fujifilm
In some ways digital just appeals more to many photographers. In short, it seems easier. That is not to say it does a better job. At The Brothers Wright, we have always shot film and are confident in choosing 100% film in nearly any situation. There have always been bad photos taken on film, just as there will always be bad photos taken on digital.
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.
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.
35mm Kodak Portra 400 with off camera flash 35mm Fuji ACROS 100 with on camera flash
I know that many will continue to further myths about film, and claim that they aren’t insulting film. But again, it is not the tool you choose that is solely responsible for bad images. Only the people creating the images can be held responsible for that. We have fully covered hundreds of weddings on film, and never once received a complaint about the performance of film.
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.
Again, as if fun party shots did not exist before digital? Here are just a few ways that film can offer something High ISO digital does not… Unique nuances from vintage cameras with direct flash.
Not entirely untrue, but it rarely does in our experience. If there is a screw up, with film or digital, it is usually the photographer’s mistake regardless of the medium. And if you do “screw up”, with film you may only lose 12-36 images rather than 1,000 (and a second card slot doesn’t help if your 5D Mark III is stolen or it is accidentally set to JPEG small, etc.).
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.
Just because one can find some underexposed “Red Wedding” photographs published in a “Martha Stewart wedding book from the 80s”, does not mean that is how film looks today — or even how it had to look back then. It’s the photographer who is responsible for the image created, not the technology. Using the technology well is the only way to get the best results from it.
35mm CineStill 800T 35mm CineStill 800T 35mm CineStill 800T 35mm CineStill 800T 35mm CineStill 800T pushed 1 stop
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.
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.
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.
I particularly like how the light shining on the back of the subject’s head is emphasised by the dark figure behind him.
120 Kodak Portra400 pushed 2 stops (f2.8 & 1/4 second exposure) 35mm CineStill 800T in available incandescent (tungsten) light 120 Ilford HP5 pushed 2 stops A candlelight and moonlit ceremony held after dark, on 35mm CineStill 800T pushed 2 stops.
Myth 4. “Film can screw up, really badly”
Tags: analog, defense, digitalvsfilm, editorial, film, filmvsdigital, oped, opinion, thoughts
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.
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!
Gia Canali, Dave Burnett, Elizabeth Messina, Bruce Weber, Leo Patrone, Autumn Dewilde, Michael Ash Smith, Tanja Lippert, Dany Clinch, Lane Dittoe, Norman Jean Roy, Laura Partain, Zalmy Berkowitz, Amy And Stuart, Parker Fitzgerald, Q Weddings, Pamela Littky, Reg Campbell, Bret Cole, Bryan Johnson, Lauren Dukoff, Jose Villa, Ryan Muirhead, Wirawan Sanjaya, Yvette Roman, Richard Israel, Ryan Wilcox, Trent Bailey Cobb, Megan McIsaac, and so many more…
Amazing flexibility with rapidly changing light and fidelity with extreme color lighting, since film won’t block up from the gamma peaking in one channel.
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.
Film has been around for over a hundred years, and will remain for a hundred more. Modern film technology today is better than ever, and why not try the new stuff as it keeps improving, or at least keep it as an option?
You will be hard pressed to find a reasonable working photographer today, who won’t admit that film still has a place in photography and really offers some unique characteristics, even if they choose to not use it. But often photographers who love shooting digital and don’t want to deal with film attempt to write off and make excuses for why they can’t shoot film. I’d like to offer a rebuttal to such excuses, inspired by a recent thoughtful PetaPixel post.I love film, but I think there is no need to make any excuses for shooting digitally in this day and age. Digital technology has arrived and is about as good as it can get in its present form. The war is over and peace should reign! Digital is not better than film or vice versa. They are both useful tools in photography, which can have their place in every photographer’s arsenal.
That is my favourite reason for shooting on black and white film. You’re forced to hone your skills much faster.
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.
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.
4. A photographer has a tripod or a steady hand. You can shoot in the lowest light at even ISO 100 by shooting longer exposures. There are many film cameras out there that produce virtually no vibration or even sound when the shutter is released. If you hold these cameras correctly and time your shot like a sniper you can produce sharp images at 1/8th or even 1/4 sec.
Not true at all. Let’s ignore the fact that film technology today is far more advanced than it was 30 years ago, just as digital is better than it was. We now have phenomenal film technology today such as CineStill Film, the new Kodak Portra films and Delta 3200. But there has been low light photography a lot longer than digital has been around, and even longer than modern film technology. What did photographers do back then?
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.
That’s also one of the advantages of the poor dynamic range. The contrast on neutral colours is boosted.
A note from Josh, ExpertPhotography’s Photographer-In-Chief: Thank you for reading… CLICK HERE if you want to capture breathtaking images, without the frustration of a complicated camera. It’s my training video that will walk you how to use your camera’s functions in just 10 minutes – for free! I also offer video courses and ebooks covering the following subjects: Beginner – Intermediate Photography eBook Beginner – Intermediate Photography Video Course Landscape Photography eBook Landscape Photography Video Course Photography Blogging (Service) You could be just a few days away from finally understanding how to use your camera to take great photos! Thanks again for reading our articles!
If a photographer quickly places a camera on a tripod and makes much longer exposures, they can shoot at any ISO or aperture.
120 Ilford Delta 3200 35mm Ilford Delta 3200 Myth 3. “If your schedule runs late, say goodbye to beautifully lit film portraits.”
120 Kodak Tri-X shot when a camera broke Myth 5. “Three words… Natural. Light. Photographer.”
And say goodbye to beautifully lit digital portraits too? The capture does nothing to change the lighting. Most digital photographers will scour for some good artificial light or add their own off camera flash. The exact same thing can be done with film. No difference.
3. There are really fast lenses. With a fast f/1.4 lens and ISO 400 film you can capture most artificial lighting with a minimum shutter speed equivalent to the lens focal length (e.g. 50mm=1/60th, 35mm=1/30th, etc). A room has to really be uncomfortably dark to require anything above ISO 800 and a fast lens.
About the author: Brian M. Wright is a photographer based in Los Angeles, California, and the co-owner of The Brothers Wright Photography, through which he shoots wedding work with his twin brother. You can find more of his work on his website, blog, and Facebook.
Myth 1. “Low light and film photography is a combination that sucks”
This still takes about 2 weeks or longer. I’m there regularly for printing anyway so it’s not too much of a problem.