Hello, my name is Marvin Boyd, I am a portrait, landscape and lifestyle photographer based in Seattle (Washington), I predominantly shoot film and I am here to debunk a few misconceptions about film and also give you some guidance on some different film stocks to use and get you out there shooting!
Let’s get started with some stuff you may be getting wrong when it comes to film…
So when most people talk about film they say things like “Oh its film which means I need to have dead on exposure…” or “if I over expose my photos will turn out white and bright…” the thing is film does not always need to be dead on for exposure, at least when it comes to color negative film. The most common negative film shot today is most likely Portra 400 and Fuji Pro 400H which I am sure you have heard of. Portra 400 is widely known as one of the best film stocks to shoot because it is a very forgiving film. This means that it has one of the largest if not the largest set of dynamic range you can find in a film.
In digital when we think of exposure, we tend to shoot underexposed which will allow us to protect the highlights due to the sensor not being able to retain that detail as well as our shadows. In film it’s the complete opposite. Talk to any film shooter and they will tell you that they like to rate (we will talk about this soon) Portra 400 at 200 or even 100 to get a flat image and retain data in the shadows. The reason for this is because film can handle up to 6 stops of over exposure rather than maybe the 2 stops your digital camera can.
On the flip side if you underexpose your film you tend to have color shift faster, lose shadow detail completely and overall have a very muddy image.
RATING YOUR FILM AT A DIFFERENT SPEED
So like I mentioned earlier different photographers like to rate their film at different speeds depending on what they are shooting or even the time of day. I tend to shoot Portra 400 at 200 as I like the shadow detail and it almost always means I’ll never underexpose an image. Rating a film simply means you set your light meter to a speed other than what it is, so if its 400 you set your meter to 200 or 100. This is going to purposely give you an exposure that is 1 or 2 stops overexposed.
COMMON FILM STOCKS TO GET YOU STARTED
When it comes to film different film stocks and speeds have different characteristics. I will quickly breakdown the two most commonly used film stocks and why you should choose either. These films will be on the higher end of the price range which is about 9 dollars per roll. Please keep in mind that both films are professional grade films.
KODAK PORTRA 160, 400 & 800
These are very common color negative films among professionals and portrait photographers. Portra tends to have the most latitude when it comes to exposure and have that desaturated pastel color type of look that has been made famous by photographer such as Samuel Elkins and Andrew Kearns. This film has very accurate skin tones and tends to have a warmer look to it unlike some films like Fuji Pro 100NS or Fuji Pro 400H. I use Portra almost exclusively for portraits unless I am going for a different look.
FUJI PRO 400H
Fuji Pro 400H is Fuji’s answer to Kodak’s Portra. Just like Portra this film is a 400 speed film (ISO 400) and with that comes a lot of latitude. Fuji is known for its greens and cool tones. This film typically having a green cast in the shadows when underexposed. This is a great film to use when taking portraits or lifestyle shots where Greens are most prominent.
JUST GET OUT THERE AND TRY IT
Ultimately the best thing you can do is to buy a roll, grab a cheap 50 dollars camera and shoot it to see what happens. The best part about film is it’s the perfect medium for when you have to shoot in harsh light or not exactly ideal conditions. I use film for all kinds of conditions. I use Medium format when I want to make a scene a bit more interesting and almost miniature like, sometimes I use 35mm for portraits as I get more frames over my medium format. It’s all about what you want to do with your images and look you want to achieve.
Some film stocks have quirks that make it stand out while others are more like a blank canvas which helps you to create the look you want while still having film tones. But one thing is always constant, once you realize that everyone can achieve the same look as you because all the colors are based on a film rather than sensor, it will cause you to think about how you can really capture a great image because editing won’t be enough to separate you.
Thank you for reading and I hope this post has helped and inspired you to shoot some film.