Tips to achieve quality exposures with film

Shooting on film – preventing stupid mistakes

During December the number of visitors in Lincoln suddenly jumps to an unbelievable high of approximately 250,000 people! As a street photographer, this was a fantastic opportunity to capture shots on a busy high street, which street photographers from larger cities are used to.

Armed with the trusty Olympus EM-10 and a OM10 film camera the idea was to shoot high ISO and push the film too, to produce that beautiful grain.  The first session was set – night-time, when the market truly comes to life, the smell of the food and Christmas music in the background, you can almost hear it still now.

picture of Olympus em10

The film camera was set to meter at 1600 accordingly (whilst using 400 film) which would allow some chance of using an appropriate shutter speed, however, some of the market is so dark only the smallest depth of field was possible (f1.8).

The Mistake

Have you spotted how dark the picture above was?  Yes, you guessed it the exposure is really out so this draws two possible conclusions:

  • the light meter is faulty
  • the operator
  • exposure settings incorrect

And of course the answer is the operator who is an idiot with a forgetful memory!  Although this caused exposure setting issues, there were not for the reason you think.  Intending to push the film 2 stops (from 400 > 1600) was fine, the mistake here was forgetting I had COLOUR film in.

christmas market shot with pentax

Lincoln christmas market 2016

The local copy shop could process colour (using c41) which meant finally I would have some scans, so we did a deal (you can’t beat barter).  However, they explained with c41 the timings on their equipment cannot really be adjusted, so that meant the exposures would be very dark!  Research shows that pushing colour is not that different, but if the shop cannot help you, that’s something you either live with or find an alternative shop.

Using this untested Pentax Super camera only compounded to the mistakes with shooting on colour film, as previously all experience was from the Olympus OM10 and black and white Ilford film.  At the point of shooting on the market, there was no actual way of knowing if the light meter was working or broken at all, so it was done to experimenting!  Luckily I walked around the market again with my Olympus EM-10 so had these shots as a back up.

 

The Cure

Ensuring you have plenty of practise with the same equipment is really useful, as you gain confidence and applying this to both the camera and film is important too.  Remember all brands and films achieve different results and that’s why film is so great.  So ensure you remember what sort of film is in your camera and the appropriate exposure settings, even using a notepad can help you record your experience.

Using a variety of camera’s and lenses is again a personal choice, it’s quite exciting using film in this digital age and you may be surprised what happens on the street.  During this particular shoot one couple who were carrying large DSLR’s with long focal length lenses came up to me and we had a lovely conversation about film and mirrorless too.

Another point worth mentioning was the scans – knowing if the strange red bleeding (see below) in the photo’s was due to the operator, camera or shop can really only be proved by changing one element at a time.

lincoln christmas market

Lincoln christmas market 2016

Although this session had costly mistakes  – since a full roll of film wasted (not a total loss though as I learned about the C41 process a little).  But you have to factor in the print shop costs for development, scanning and travelling to the high street to get these developed.

Patience, practise and preparation are the tricks that will stay with all forms of your photography, from arranging the session, to planning your equipment and bag and your route around an event like this.  Some chaos is also great, you cannot be the spontaneity of the street, thousands of people with different faces, lives and thoughts.

Thoughts

The simplest way forward is to consider your previous experience, experimentation is great but remember you need an end product too.  Film and development is not cheap any more, of course there are ways to lower your costs here like developing yourself (keep watching the blog).  Simple steps you can follow to help prevent problems are:

  • use tested equipment
  • check your settings
  • gain confidence with the film
  • record your settings
  • research development options
  • enjoy your experience

 

Thanks for reading and keep watching the blog for more useful advice.

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