We’ve all been there. You’ve just arrived to your photoshoot location with your favourite film camera and a handful of films, ready for anything. So which film do you select? Every film has its own colour palette, grain structure and unique ways of responding to light. I want to walk you through some of the film that I used on a film-only shoot of mine, and why I chose it.
Shoot 1 – Black and White.
Black and white outfit
Outdoor industrial location
Soft overcast lighting
High contrast shots needed
As we arrived on set, I was fully prepared for anything. The location was a dry dock in Bristol, UK, one of the founding locations of the industrial revolution. There was texture everywhere, from the trees on the banks opposite to the crumbling dock walls. The outfit was a simple black and white number with a heavily patterned trouser design, and white eyeliner to compliment. Assessing these points I decided to opt for a black and white film to help emphasise the contrast and textures. Black and white film loves texture, and ramps up the tonal range and dynamic contrasts, really picking out the contrast between highlight and shadows.
To keep the set flexible I shot with a 400 ISO film, specifically Kodak BW400CN. This gave me choice to shoot in either direct sunlight or in the shadows if need be. The Kodak film is a chromagenic/C41 film – meaning I can process this black and white film in colour developing solutions, found in all high street printing labs. This gave me the quick turnaround needed for my client, instead of having to wait for the 5 days turnaround the local lab has for traditional black and white films. All these little tidbits of information gave me my final choice of film for the shoot. First I consider the average light readings for the day, to decide if I need a 100, 400 or 1600 ISO film first. After that I think what kind of film would benefit the location and more importantly, the clothes. After that I decide the ease of use, if I need to get the negatives quickly or I am allowed extra time for specialist developing.
Set 2 – Pastels.
Vibrant vintage colour outfit
Summer warmth colours needed
Flattering skin tones
The second set with a new model required a complete change of plan. The outfit was bursting with bright colours, and required a colour film to match this. Shooting mono films would be to little effect, as would not shot off the garments bright colours. I knew my selection would be narrowed down to low ISO colour negative films, as the sun was at its highest and brightest of the day. This narrowed the choices down to either Kodak Portra or Fujifilm Pro H films, which are both portrait-specific colour negative film.
A little known secret is that Kodak and Fujfilm modelled their films colours and tones on the subjects and people around them at their factories. Whilst Fujifilm was produced in Japan, Kodak was made in Germany. This meant that Fujifilm colours are influenced by their surroundings, and Kodak similarly. If your model is caucasian in skin tone, Kodak is always recommended, whilst for all other skin tones, I’d say go with Fujfilm. The skin tones will reflect the choice in film, so be careful on which you choose! Fujifilm colours tend to be a little paler and neutral in colour, whilst Kodak boosts the orange and pink tones in skin better.
Choosing a film is a difficult process, but you can make an imaginary flow-chart to streamline your process, ending up with your preferred choice of film. If you want to stay super safe, my one-for-all film of choice would be Kodak Portra 400 – you can shoot it at at 100, 200 or 400 and still get great shots, it can handle mixed light and high contrast situations well and comes in medium format and 35mm variations. It’s ultimately up to you which film stock you use, sometimes a film choice can define you (Guy Bourdin was famous for using high contrast and vibrant slide film for his work, whilst Helmut Newton preferred grainy black and white for his work), just be sure to stand behind your choice and know why you chose it. There’s nothing worse than shooting uneducated with a poor film stock, and ending up with terrible skin tones because you shot your models with a landscape film.
Jon Sparkman is a fine art photographer from the UK using film cameras, interesting lighting and bright colours in his images. Follow him on Instagram @sparkman_uk and see more work at www.sparkman.co.uk.