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In a world where your smartphone can crank out perfectly lit photos at 12 megapixels in cascades of HDR bursts, shooting film might make you feel like a caveman (or cave lady).
I totally get it! I’m not one to throw out a good iPhone shot #Instaiphone #instaapple #iOs.
Before we roll if you are interested in seeing more amazing film photography tips then check out our homepage.
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Why shoot 35mm Slide Film?
Film photography is a completely different animal, though. It’s less of a skill and more of a craft, and it needs your love and your dedication to being an artisan. But if you want to fully understand light and how to master it in your photography, then this is the medium for you.
Fundamentally, photography is about building an image in your head before pushing that button. Shooting film teaches you to do that – by force because there is simply no way to review the image. Your mistakes are costly and permanent. So, you should think about every aspect of the image before hitting that shutter button. After your first few rolls, your spidey senses will start to tingle, and you’ll start to notice clouds moving in front of the sun, light sources that you’d otherwise stroll past and other little details that will make or break your images. Your skills will improve by leaps and bounds.
If you’d like to read more about why shooting film is magical – I’ve written an article about it here: why shoot film?
Positive vs Negative Film?
Do you remember nervously flipping through National Geographic magazine when you were waiting at the dentist as a kid? Most of those (now probably traumatic) images were shot with slide film. Kodachrome film is one of the most superior films of all time.
Ektachrome, a slide film from Kodak, became extremely popular with National Geographic photographers, on account of the rich colours and fine grain. Those visits to the dentist and the beauty of Ektachrome inspired me to start taking photos all those years ago.
A regular colour film, or print film, produces a negative colour film that when displayed through an enlarger allows you to print the positive colour image. However, when prints or scans are done from negative colour film, there is a massive variance in how the final images turn out. Each print shop gives a slightly different result based on the chemicals they use to convert the negatives into a positive image
Slide film, or colour reversal film, produces colour positive transparencies, or, more simply, slides. They can be loaded directly into a projector and displayed as is. What you see on the film is what you get. It’s a professional grade film with vibrant colours, contrast, sharpness and very fine grain.
As such, you’ll need to be familiar with your camera to use it. Black and white film has 5 stops of dynamic range (latitude). This means you can forget to set the exposure and still end up with an image. Colour negative film has a 3 stop range. But slide film only has 1.5 stops of dynamic range, so you need to make conscious decisions about what to meter for in the image.
Advantages of colour slide film
- The colour and contrast that comes from slide film are second to none. Even modern digital cameras, namely Fuji cameras, include built-in film simulations to replicate the look produced by these films. Nice try, but nothing is better than the real thing.
- Being able to see the results is a huge advantage. You can pick up the film and see exactly how the images turned out. You can then scan them directly, take photos of them or use them in a projector.
- Slide film lasts forever. It’s the ‘80s Toyota Land Cruiser of film. We’ve all found boxes of photos at home that are faded, creased and full of mystery stains. Well, slide film will sit quite happily in a box for years without any loss of colour, contrast or quality.
- You can cross process, which means developing the slide film using the C-41 method. This can produce some funky colours. Anyone who’s spent at least 5 minutes on Instagram will know all about filters. Well, those faded, blue-toned. “washed out” images were originally created by cross processing slide film.
Disadvantages of shooting 35mm slides
- Slide film only has around 1.5 stops of latitude. This means that a slight over (or under) exposure could make you lose all of the information in the highlights (or shadows).
- It is expensive! These days it is getting harder and harder to get your hands on slide film, and when you do, you might need to dip into your children’s college fund.
- Once you have it, you need to find someone that can develop it. You need to search for a lab that can do E6 development. Don’t worry. There are also a lot of mail-in services that are available, just look online.
- It’s not your everyday film as sometimes the saturated colours are just too wild. For example, Fuji Velvia is great for landscape shooting, but if used inside for portraits, you’ll end up with some strange colour casts. Grandma’s 60th birthday photos might have her looking like Snooki from Jersey Shore.
Let’s face it, shooting film isn’t for everyone and slide film is a bit of a black sheep. But if you, like me, love learning all things photography, shooting slide film is a must.
Lessons from Shooting Slide
Low light is difficult. Unless you are confident about your ability to measure the light, you’re not going to have a good time. Most slide film is ASA 200 or lower. This gives fine grain, excellent colour and contrast, but slow shutter speeds.
If you are shooting people, then err on slightly underexposing the background and adding a bit of light to the subject. To do that, you can use a flash, a reflector or even a cell phone light.
In the beginning, try to bracket your images. Take one photo a half a stop underexposed then shoot again, half a stop overexposed. This will ensure that you’ll get something usable in the end.
Bright sunny days naturally have a wide dynamic range. The difference between the brightest brights and the shadows can be over 10 stops. You need to decide if you want to lose the shadows or the sky. The earlier you think like this, the more keepers you’ll get.
Different Types of Slide Film
Table courtesy of guidetofilmphotography.com
Dynamic color reproduction.
For controlled lighting using tungsten lamps.
Outdoor use, extremely sharp images and rich colors.
For controlled lighting using tungsten lamps.
For use with daylight, natural color depiction.
Natural and exquisite skin tones for portraiture and fashion.
Out door use, extremely sharp images and rich saturation.
Increased color saturation.
Controlled studio shooting.
Lower contrast scale in a higher speed film.
General purpose film able to handle wide exposures.
Low-light situations, warm color balance.
It’s clear that shooting slide film isn’t for everyone. However, I’ve learned that there’s something very special about holding those developed slides in your hand. Knowing that you’ve carefully captured these images and they’re now printed directly onto the film is astounding. It’s simply analogue photography at its finest.
So, thank you very much for reading this far into our slide film adventure. As usual, we would like to put out a challenge to our readers. If you have a film camera lying around, then please pick up a roll of slide film and shoot. You’ll be more careful in taking the images, more thoughtful about the compositions and more impressed with the results.
Check out one of the best slide scanner for more information on how to digitise these slides.
My First Roll
New Zealand travel photographer based in London, UK. He was taking photos from a very young age in the backcountry of New Zealand before moving abroad. Since doing so he has taken workshops and tried to help get as many people into this art as possible. Featured in NZ Herald, Stuff.co.nz and many photography publications it’s safe to say he loves his photography!