Using film for fashion and studio portraits is becoming much more commonplace these days. However, it's still a conscious choice that a photographer makes to either shoot with film or not. We are always interested to know the stories behind the decisions and choices that film photographers make, from what camera and film they use, to the style they choose to adopt. When we sent UK-photographer Rob Hawthorn some LomoChrome Metropolis and Berlin Kino 120 films we asked him about his results and how his journey into film began.
Hi Rob, tell us a bit about yourself and your work.
I like to shoot portraits and fashion. I don't shoot as frequently as I'd like. Work, life, family… It’s hard to make the time. So when I do have a session booked in, I really look forward to it and spend a lot of time thinking about how to approach it. I don’t know a thing about fashion really, but I have so much respect for fashion photographers, stylists and models. I usually start with an idea of what I want to do –a feeling, a location, a colour pallette– but on the day, I embrace the fact that fashion photography is a collaboration.
You shoot mostly with film. How did that come about and what started your interest in film?
I shot some black and white film as a kid, and even did a bit of darkroom printing, but lost interest. My interest in film was rekindled when I was gifted an old SLR by my father-in-law, Mimmo (Thanks again, Mimmo). He assured me he wouldn’t be offended if I’d considered it junk, but in fact I was incredibly grateful and immediately excited to give it a try. I switched over to shooting exclusively with film pretty quickly.
There are all sorts of reasons, but some of the main ones are that I spend more than enough time already working with digital equipment and post-processing in my work-life, and I also simply like the feel of the analogue equipment. I also like the fact that, once you get to know a film, know what to expect from your lab and know a bit about controlling and modifying light and directing a model/sitter, you can keep pretty much all of the creative act in the moment.
What are the challenges involved with shooting portraits with film?
I honestly don’t think there really are many… I mean, if you’re someone who likes to do a lot of post processing, then film probably isn’t for you. But that’s not me. People simply look great on film. Film often has texture that simultaneously adds perceived detail and gives a flattering evenness to skin tones. Metering is important. Whilst it’s true of most negative films that you can overexpose without issues as long as you don’t underexpose, it’s worth keeping in mind that inconsistent levels of overexposure can lead to inconsistent colour balance.
If you’re doing street or landscape photography you may not notice subtle colour balance differences between shots on a roll. If you are shooting a portrait set with one model in the same light though, you will certainly notice if their skin or outfit has even a slightly different tone between shots on the same roll. These problems can be frustrating when you’re trying to produce a consistent photo set, and can be tricky to correct for. Consistency of exposure helps to avoid this.
I don’t often go in for stocks like the LomoChrome Metropolis, but I came up with an idea and visualised it really clearly. I knew exactly what I wanted to achieve with it and I’m happy to say I managed to get exactly the result I wanted. I wanted to create something that felt somehow early/mid 20th century, without being too explicitly styled. I think the colour palette of Metropolis was perfect for this. I used a cinema projection lens designed for 70 mm movie film, which I have converted to 6x7 format. Projection lenses are usually fast. This one has a fixed aperture of F/2, which is incredibly fast for the 6x7 format, and creates such shallow depth-of-field, even at longer distances, that the shots look to me like they could have been taken on a large format camera.
The shallow depth of field also softens the overall contrast of the scene in the foreground and background, which is what I wanted. For consistent colours on this film you’d need to meter carefully. I’m really happy with these results. I’m not necessarily going to start using Metropolis very regularly, but if/when the right idea comes along and calls for that unique colour palette, I wouldn’t hesitate.
When it came to the Berlin Kino 400, I didn’t know quite what to expect. I wouldn’t call myself an expert on black and white film stocks. Of the few that I do use regularly, I know which ones will give a sharp, modern look and which ones give more of a classic rendering, and my assumption was that Berlin Kino would fit into the latter category. I shot these on a Pentax 67. The corset shots on the Takumar 105 mm F/2.4 lens, and the rest on a converted Zeiss Jena Sonnar 180 mm. I am quite happy with the results, particularly the texture of the grain, which is fine and seems relatively consistent. Where I’ve hit critical focus on these portraits, the resolving power of the film is demonstrated, with individual strands of hair and eyelashes clearly defined even at half-length portrait distance. Whilst my pictures here have a soft, low contrast overall, due again to shallow depth-of-field and soft light, at the focal plane there’s a real kick in contrast which adds to the perception of sharpness.
I did have one issue with the film, which was a couple of drying marks. The lab advised me that this happens sometimes with older cine film stocks in 120 that have a heavy film base, and happened here despite them using drying aids and filtered water. Fortunately this was minimal and didn’t overlap the face or any fine detail, which would have been harder to correct in photoshop. I like the look of the Berlin Kino 400. I’m sure I’ll use it again.
What tips would you give for someone wanting to start shooting professionally with film?
Film is just a tool. Cameras are just tools. Use any tools that help you achieve what you’ve visualised, whether that’s film, digital, a certain lens, strobes, light modifiers. As with anything, practice and get to know your tools and you can be confident about what you will achieve when you shoot. Plan each shoot carefully. Getting into creating mood boards in preparation for shoots helps enormously, and you should share these with everyone involved –the model, and any stylist, hair and make up artist and even assistant who'll be there on the day. Get everyone involved and make sure everyone knows what you're working together to achieve.
My model for this session was Lucy Le Maistre, and it was just the two of us on this particular shoot. Massive thanks to Lucy, who contributed an enormous amount of creative energy and ideas, not to mention her own wardrobe, and was a pleasure to collaborate with. I'd also like to thank my labs, FilmDev (who handle all of my C-41) and TRAIA (who handle my B&W and E-6), and thanks also to my home studio, Crixus Studios.
To see more of Rob's work check out his Instagram page.