52 Photo Tips #24: Find a favourite film

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(Pic: Castor/Flickr CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

This is the 24th post in a series in collaboration with Film’s Not Dead.

When you first start shooting film, the choices can be a little daunting. Even if there is quite the number of emulsions still being made today, there are still dozens to choose from.

Each brand of film, like cameras and lenses, has its own characteristics. Some demands bright light, others like it best when the light is lower. Some can be pushed and still yield fantastic results. Some take a little more care.

Once you find a film that you connect with it, you should shoot it as much as you can. Here’s why.

The more you practice with something – like a musical instrument, or a computer programme – the better you get at it. You learn its strengths and limitations, and you learn what it’s best for. Film is the same.

You should, of course, try as many films as you can. Check out sites like Flickr and Lomography and see what other photographers are doing with them; that will give you an idea of the film’s colour palette, grain, and other characteristics. Then get out and shoot with it.

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Kodak Ektar is one of my favourite films to use when travelling

Try and shoot in a range of conditions – use it indoor and out, in sunny conditions and, if you’re shooting black and white, overcast aswell. Get to know what it looks like in different light. And here’s the thing – there’ll be some situations where it’ll look rubbish. Films sing in some conditions, but can be poor in others. You’ll get the best sense of this by loading it and using it.

Using the same film again and again can almost help your personal style. Using a film regularly can add a trademark look to your photos – and this is vitally important if you start shooting a personal project. If you’re creating a project around a strong theme or subject, you’ll want each shot to have a uniform look; chopping and changing from film stock to film stock can be jarring.

Each photographer will, most likely have different films for different moods. For my Soundcheck Session project I used Fuji Neopan (since retired by Fujifilm, so I’ll have to find another black and white film for the project). I love Kodak Ektar when I’m travelling and it’s sunny. If I’m taking black and white portraits I tend to do them on Kodak Tri-X. These decisions come from using films again and again and getting a sense of their strengths and weaknesses.

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Kodak Tri-X is my favourite film for black and white portraits

But those films I use a personal choice. Just because I use them for certain jobs doesn’t mean everyone has to.

Just because most people are using a certain film for portraits, doesn’t mean you have to. There’s accepted wisdom that a film like Kodak Portra 400 is great for portraits – and it most certainly is – but if a bolder colour palette of another film is really what you want to use, then go for it.

You’ll have your own film that suits your vision. Have fun using various films and seeing what they can do, and make your decisions after you’ve shot with them. Then use it, and help it strengthen your photographic vision.

9 COMMENTS

  1. I guess I’ve settled on Fujicolor 200 as my go-to color film. I say I guess because I never set out to shoot so much of it — it’s just easily available and inexpensive. But after shooting so many rolls, I know exactly what I’m doing with it.

    I haven’t settled on a b/w film yet. I like Tri-X for a lot of things, but when I want a slower b/w film I can’t decide between Neopan 100 Acros and T-Max.

  2. My go to colour 35mm is Agfa Vista 200, mainly because it’s astoundingly cheap here in Cardiff as one of the Poundland’s sell’s it for a quid a roll, although if money was no object, and it was still manufactured, I’d be all over Fuji NPS 160. Black & White ideally I shoot Ilford FP4 125 but have found Fomapan Classic 100 to be close, if not quite perfectly the same, enough for a fraction of the cost. It’s 120mm that really sucker’s me in as I can’t shoot 120 on anything except FujiPro 400H or 160S, it feel’s like a disservice putting anything else through my Yashica.

  3. And there is also a favorite film for each camera! For example, for BW I love Tri-X, but since I purchased my LC-A120 I found that this camera, with its added contrast and vignetting, makes this film too dark, so I ended with Ilford Hp5 and I love the results. At the end, it is a learning curve and a combination between the lab, the camera, the lens and the film…

  4. For colour negatives, you can’t beat Fujicolor C200 for contrast, resolution, colours and lattitude at that price (I get it for 2 euros per 36-frame roll). Ektar 100 and Portra 160 are great films but they are so techhnically excellent that if scanned well, you almost can’t tell the difference from digital and they are so expensive compared to C200 that I would only consider them if I was a pro shooting in the studio in medium format or larger.

    I also kind of like Kodak Colourplus 200 which is far inferior to C200 technically, but it sometimes gives colours that have a vintage, off look as if you’re shooting expired film but without the increased graininess.

    When films no longer produced come into play, I can’t speak highly enough for Superia 100 and Gold 100, both films are simply excellent, particularly the latter which gives the most truthful colours I’ve seen in a colour negative film.

    Superia 400 (awful greenish cast in the shadows or even if slightly underexposed) and Kodak Ultramax 400 (too saturated) are just not worth the extra money over C200 I think.

    For B&W, I don’t like T-Max films at all, but this is probably because I like some grain and the ability to push. Given the fact that I regularly use Rodinal, I have settled for Tri-X and APX-100 for fast and slow speeds respectively, although I haven’t used Ilford films yet.

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