Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Introducing Film Photography

So what is film photography?  Well, in a nutshell, its a magical process that involves light, silver, and acetate.
It is a magical process in essence, but in reality, it's far from it.  The chemical process is actually pretty simple.  The silver halide emulsion is spread across a acetate or polyester backing.  When you expose the film to light the silver halides are then converted to a metallic silver, which composes the latent image.
When this film is then placed into a developing agent, like D-76, it is then converted to silver metal grains.
The developer acts as a reducing agent which turns the silver black, while the remaining unexposed silver doesn't change at all.  Once the film is completed in the developing stage, it is then placed into a "FIXING" agent.  This agent dissolves all unexposed and undeveloped silver ions on the film and the image remains.  This also stops all possibility of the film becoming further exposed.
The image is recorded to the film as a negative image.  Dark areas are light, while light areas are dark.  This is because dark areas have taken the most light, while the light areas have been exposed to the lowest amount of light.  When projected, via an enlarger, onto photographic paper, like Silver Gelatin paper, it then records the image as a positive image.
The process to turn the latent image on Silver Gelatin paper is the same, and can be used as a film substitute as well.
Now, why do I chose film photography, when digital photography is more prevalent?  Easier?  Doesn't require an extra step to develop the image?
That's not the point, actually.  I thoroughly enjoy the whole process of start to finish.  That, and holding something tangible is a feeling all to itself.  The best feeling is holding up a strip of slides, seeing the positive image in front of you requiring no further work.  They are absolutely beautiful! Cameras, like dSLRs feel.. well, impersonal, without a soul, and without a personality.  While cameras from the 80's and before, when they were metal, and built tough, have character.  Plus, they have never been cheaper!  Although film use has (was) on the steady decline, more and more digital users are actually reverting back to film, or trying out film for the first time.
There is something to be said about the fact that film use is on the rise, not on the decline.
Granted, many films have disappeared over the years, and many in recent.  Such as Fuji's 400 speed (and faster) films, and Kodak's entire Chrome lineup, but there are new films on the market.  For one, Ferrania is firing up the line again, ORWO is in production still with new emulsions, Kodak is still improving their films, and have released a new line of Portras.
110 film has also made a resurgence, which baffles many!  A sub-miniature format that has, strangely, blossomed into a impressive lineup.  From B&W, to Redscale!  Incredible!

There are many different sizes.  From 110, mentioned above, to IX240, also known as APS film, 135, which is more commonly known as 35mm, 120 (NOT 120mm!!), 127, similar to 120, but smaller, and the large formats.  From 3¼ X 4¼ to, well, the sky's the limit!  Literally!  12x20, 24x36, and larger!!
I'm pretty much leveled out at 4x5.  I am currently repairing a 5x7 field camera, and hopefully will have that working in a year or so.
The different formats have different aspect ratios as well.
APS film has multiple size formats to the image.  Although the camera captures the image all the same, when the cartridge goes to the film processor, it is printed differently.  Images are captured in a 16x9 size, known as HD (go figure), but can be printed in the standard APS-C (Classic) size, known as 2x3 format (4x6), APS-H (HD 16x9) and APS-P, or Panoramic.  Panoramic cuts off the top and bottom, a 3:1 ratio.  This wasn't a true panoramic, but printed in the same aspect and size as one.
Ultrawide lenses, like a 6mm ƒ/4 EF lens can capture some truly beautiful APS panoramic images, but the majority of users didn't have APS SLRs but point and shoot APS cameras, and were 24mm wide angle lenses, but with the crop factor weren't much different than a standard 35mm lens.
35mm film also had multiple sizes as well.  A camera like the Hasselblad X-Pan can capture true Panoramic images, which are beautiful.  The Horizon can also capture some incredible Panoramic images which are amazingly beautiful as well!  Check some out.
127 and 120 film also has multiple, but similar, sizes.
120 film captures 6x4.5 6x6, 6x7, 6x8 and 6x9 sizes.  But that said, there are 120 cameras that also capture much larger.  6x12, 6x20 too!  Now those are incredible photos!  Usually captured using a view camera with a special roll film back designed to take those types of photos.
The different common sizes of 120 images give you 16 images of 6x4.5, 12 6x6, 10 6x7 and 6x8, and 8 6x9 images.
127, like 120, also can take multiple different sizes, but the majority are 4x4, but you can get 3x4 and 4x6. Respectively you get 16 3x4 images, 12 4x4, and 8 4x6 images per 127 roll.  I'm sure you can modify a view camera's film back to take 127 roll film to expose a 4x12 image if you wanted to.
4x5 and larger film cameras accepted roll film backs and allowed you to take panoramic type images on smaller film formats, like 120 film.

There are many people that have pushed "digital vs film" blogs, and they are all inherently flawed.  And badly!
There is no such thing as Film vs Digital, as they capture images completely differently.
The biggest reason for them being totally flawed is because they usually take a Colour Negative film against a digital format, which is wrong.  For one, digital captures a positive image, like slide film, which has a thin latitude, while Colour Negative has a massive exposure latitude.
The major difference with Digital and film is B&W.  See, film captures a true B&W image, while digital cannot capture one.  A RGB sensor captures the image in colour, and must desaturate the image, which does not make a proper B&W image.  Sure, Leica has a digital sensor that captures true B&W image, but the problem with that is the cost.  Several thousands of dollars just to capture a digital B&W image seems, well... rather flawed to me.  With that much money, I can buy a film Leica and capture a LOT of B&W images on film for a lot less.
Digital is a completely different format entirely.  It's a very impressive format, and developed by the Father of film.  Kodak.  Back in the 70's, actually!
Film is film, and digital is digital, and for those that keep comparing the two, please stop.
Digital can never be seen as better than film, and film can never be seen as better than digital.

So, for those that have never had an interest in film photography, try to change you mind on it.  I'm not saying to go and grab yourself a film camera and start shooting, but keep an open mind on it.  Without film, digital would not exist today.
And for those that are stolid film shooters, don't look poorly on those that shoot only digital.  Keep an open mind as well.  Everyone has their preferences, and so do I. I use digital as well as film, but my preference is film.
It shall always be film, but digital has its merits.  Think about this.  Someone wants a portrait, but wants the images within a few hours of the taking.  Film can be done, yes, but digital is far easier to do it.
Plus, there are added costs involved in film photography, that just aren't there with digital photography.
For one, there are film costs, processing costs, and scan costs for those that intend on scanning their film shots.
Next is prints.  If you are printing your own work, there is the paper, the chemicals, and the time.
Digital can also be turned into true Silver Gelatin prints by using a light jet printer, or you can even make digital negatives by printing onto a Transparency page using an InkJet and contact printing onto silver gelatin paper.

There is a lot that can be done, and you can even do alternative processes with a digital image that can look positively amazing!
So both formats can coalesce into a beautiful symphony of magic!  The cold, and clinical look of digital, using the magic of light to create a stunning masterpiece.
It has been done, and will continue to be done.  I have done it myself, except I used film to do it.

A 35mm photo I scanned, than printed onto a 8x10 transparency as a digital negative.  Once I did that, my friend John had a sheet of paper coated with a special mixture of Silver Nitrate emulsion which is sensitive to UV light.  This mixture is used to make Van Dyke Brown images.  With the sheet of paper and the digital negative, we exposed it in the sun to create a Van Dyke Brown from a digital copy of a 35mm image.
So yes, it can be done, and it looks wonderful!
Rundown Motel - 2011This is the image I used to create the Van Dyke Brown.
There is something to say about magic of the creation.
APUG, which are total Non-Digital users will look at the print and complain that the digital means of creating the shot is flawed.
I think that using a digital means creates a workflow that is easier to print multiple images that are very similar, or near on identical to each other.
A much more streamlined work flow.
Of course, there is nothing wrong with the old method, and I applaud those that will go ahead and do it that way.
Under an enlarger for hours in the day is great, and I have done it.  But I tell you, being in an enclosed space with very little air movement under a red light, it can get quite hot, and quite claustrophobic in there!

Anyway, this posts has gone on and on, and I feel like I am rambling.  I hope you have enjoyed the read.

Film photography is a scientific capturing of light, but when you ignore the science behind it all, it is truly a magical experience.
If you have never had an experience with seeing an image appear on silver gelatin paper, you should give it a try.
There is no experience in photography like it!  Printing with an Ink Jet printer is fun, but the "miracle" of seeing  the image appear on a blank white sheet of paper, like out of thin air, gives a feeling of amazement.
It's a feeling I get every time I see it, and the moment the image appears, I always smile.

Until next time, keep those shutters firing!

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