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Back To Basics: Film 101

Good negatives make good prints. Bad negatives make prints that are too dark or are all blown out. This tipster is all about getting the balance right.

This is a good negative, there is a wide range of light from very bright, to almost black, and even though it is cross processed there is plenty of detail at either end of the gamut. Only in the fire and the window does light start to drown out detail, and in the bottom where there is almost no light at all, you can still see specs of detail.

There are three things that have to happen to capture a photograph, any photograph be it film or (dun dun dahhhhh…) digital. You must provide a hole for light to get onto a light sensitive medium. This is aperture. You must have a medium for the light to change. This is film. You must expose said medium to the light for a given amount of time. This is exposure time.

neja used an 800 speed film to create this perfectly exposed image at a difficult time, dusk still can have some bright light and it gets scattered all over the place, with lots of dark shadowy areas too!

Anyway, the art of creating a good negative requires the judgement of the photographer and a knowledge of the science behind photography and film.

Even the most basic camera allows you to alter one of these things. Take a Diana F+ in pinhole mode. You can’t control the aperture, but you can choose your film and you can change the amount of time the film is exposed to the light.

All film is like a bucket or a pail. It has a perfect capacity. Too much water and it overflows, too little water and it isn’t full enough.

When its not filled enough, you get underexposed negatives, everything looks dark and you have no detail in shadows. When it is overfilled you get large overexposed areas, too bright with no detail in the brightest areas.

When these negatives are printed, you get dissapointing prints.

Your aim as a photographer is to fill it just right.

In a nutshell, film speed describes how long it takes for film to ‘fill up just right’. Film speed is usually measured for you in ISO or ASA, they are essentially identical. A film with a 50 ISO needs longer to fill than a film with an ISO of 1600. This is why ISO 50 or 100 are generally known as slow films, and ISO 400, 800 and 1600 are known as fast films. You can throw that jargon around and other photographers will understand (go to your nearest store and say, “I want the fastest film you have” and see what they offer you — bet it’s Fuji 1600 or Ilford Delta 3200!).

Film speed is always on the box and on the can inside. Fuji likes to make it big, Kodak, not so…

It is generally regarded that a super sunny, cloudless day is perfect for ISO 100, you can choose a nice medium aperture and a quick time on your camera and get great shots. On cameras with less control, something like La Sardina or Holga, it’s a necessity to choose ISO 100 for a super sunny day, or an ISO 1600 for night as the time and aperture (on La Sardina at least) is fixed.

The fabulous LC-A has a light meter that works it out for you. It chooses your aperture, and then it leaves the shutter open for as long as your chosen film needs in order to fill up. Great, unless you are shooting 100 ISO film at night—it could leave the shutter open for a minute or more and record you walking, your hands shaking etc. Unless you want a streaky, freaky image, you’ll be disappointed. Should’ve gone for 1600 ISO.

A Single Lens Reflex (SLR) camera, like my old Praktica, or a Twin Lens Reflex (TLR) like my Lubitel 2 give you absolute control. You can choose your film, your ISO (maybe — not on the Lubitel) your aperture and your shutter speed. The meter inside your SLR when you set these lets you know if you’ve got it right.

I recommend my older article for more information about film speeds and their recommended use.

This may seem like a very basic tipster, and to many of you it will be of little interest, but to those of you moving to film from snapshot digital it’s an eye opener. Once you understand and exercise this knowledge you are tooled up for the rest of this series of tipsters, and you can start to break the rules to make more interesting pictures.

For example, now you know you need a slow film for shooting at night, but if you go out and try to get cool headlight streaks with a 1600 film you may not, you might get little dribbles. So break the rules. Go out with a 100, shoot it for ages (as your light meter suggests) and you’ll get great long mutlicoloured streaks.

Good judgement by samwengchern, he made great streaks against the dark night sky!

One last tip: if you are going to try slow films when a fast would be better, minimize the shake with a tripod.

Next month, I’ll be expanding your knowlege of photography with an explanation of the ubiquitous stop, once that’s over we’re going to rocket into actually having some fun with your cameras and lenses.

Back to Basics is a monthly Tipster series by Adam Griffiths where he seeks to impart a little more technical film photography knowledge. For each installment, he chooses a fundamental subject and explains it quickly and in simple terms (with examples where possible).

written by adam_g2000

22 comments

  1. neanderthalis

    neanderthalis

    Well done and super informative, Mahalo!

    over 2 years ago · report as spam
  2. jeffr

    jeffr

    great article!

    over 2 years ago · report as spam
  3. ysmnrhm

    Awesome!

    over 2 years ago · report as spam
  4. asharnanae

    asharnanae

    Great tipster :)

    over 2 years ago · report as spam
  5. davidstafford

    davidstafford

    Great tipster, any further details on films for the La Sardina, like what to use when?

    over 2 years ago · report as spam
  6. adam_g2000

    adam_g2000

    @davidstafford Absolutely. La Sardina has a shutter speed of 1/100 and a fixed aperture of f8. You can work it out by reading this article I wrote: http://www.lomograph(…)nny-16-rule and this one too: http://www.lomograph(…)-film-speed You should be pretty safe to follow ISO 100 for sunny days, 200 for cloudy, 400 for very cloudy etc. I do to keep things simple. Slide film is more sensitive both E6'd and C41'd so steer clear until you are comfortable using colour negative.

    over 2 years ago · report as spam
  7. davidstafford

    davidstafford

    Brilliant! thanks very much!
    In what way is slide film more sensitive? do I have to get the lighting conditions just right to make sure its exposed correctly?

    over 2 years ago · report as spam
  8. adam_g2000

    adam_g2000

    @davidstafford Slide film when xpro'd needs to be shot at one stop less, because C41 punishes it and blows out the highlights. You can't control that in La Sardina. When you process it normally it has less margin for error, you need to expose it pretty exactly so you don't get underexposed or overexposed negs. However, we are here to experiment, so you may want to try it just to see what happens.

    over 2 years ago · report as spam
  9. adam_g2000

    adam_g2000

    @davidstafford PS: Looking at your shots, you seem to already have a handle or talent for this stuff anyway?

    over 2 years ago · report as spam
  10. davidstafford

    davidstafford

    Great news, i'll bear all this in mind. Thank you once again for helping me out I greatly appreciate it.

    over 2 years ago · report as spam
  11. fizzynothing

    fizzynothing

    Thanks again! This was very useful.

    over 2 years ago · report as spam
  12. dearjme

    dearjme

    Great tips for getting back to basics.

    over 2 years ago · report as spam
  13. iloveyousummer

    iloveyousummer

    noted.

    over 2 years ago · report as spam
  14. aspie

    aspie

    Hmm. Could have done with this about nine months ago! See results here...
    http://www.lomograph(…)winter-2011

    over 2 years ago · report as spam
  15. adam_g2000

    adam_g2000

    @aspie that's a nice album with some great shots. Some of the overexposure works in a nice way. I think that experimental thing is at the heart of what we do - however, it's good to be able to plan to do it. Gives you more control. Thanks for the comment!

    over 2 years ago · report as spam
  16. aspie

    aspie

    @adam_g2000 Short of being an accomplished photographer, I think it's important to be an ambitious one!

    over 2 years ago · report as spam
  17. adam_g2000

    adam_g2000

    @aspie I hear yah!

    over 2 years ago · report as spam
  18. maxwellmaxen

    maxwellmaxen

    very good article! but, the lc-a does not chose your aperture. it is fixed on 2.8, it only does your exposure time. but yeah, what's this little thing compared to a great article?

    over 2 years ago · report as spam
  19. ingwaybee

    ingwaybee

    Simple, clear and very useful! Thanks for posting :)

    over 2 years ago · report as spam
  20. adam_g2000

    adam_g2000

    @maxwellmaxen I wondered about that. My source was this page http://microsites.lo(…)cts/lacspec which states a range of 2.8-16, and the original LCA doubtless had these ranges, I'm guessing (as I don't have one) set by the lever to the left of the lens. But I've been unable to find anything about it being fixed at 2.8.

    over 2 years ago · report as spam
  21. maxwellmaxen

    maxwellmaxen

    well, so i guess we both are completely correct! the old ones had different apertures, i think. but the new lc-a+ does have a fix aperture of 2.8, or at least mine has :)

    over 2 years ago · report as spam
  22. vici

    vici

    I love your comparison "film to a bucket". Also this…"Slide film when xpro'd needs to be shot at one stop less, because C41 punishes it and blows out the highlights." I had come to this conclusion (after a year); but realizing the process "punishes" the film - well, that explains it. Thank you.

    over 1 year ago · report as spam

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