If you’re in the business of films, cameras and fashion photography, you’ll always hear people talking about two specific film stocks. No other films fair as well on skin tones, give flexibility and colour rendition quite like these. We are of course talking about the two undisputed portrait film kings, Portra and Pro H. The characteristics are subtle, but side by side comparisons might ease your decision on which to buy for your next shoot.
Fujifilm 400 Pro H.
Loading up a roll of this film into the camera gave me goosebumps. I’ve been meaning to secure a roll of this for a shoot for months, but never managed to source one in stores. The 35mm edition of the 400 ISO film is rarely found in stores in the UK, but is found on Amazon for a wallet-busting £11 a roll. I’ve never spent so much on a film before, so it better be worth my troubles! Fujifilm is a Japanese company and they modelled the colours and hues for their portrait skin on asian skin. You can expect minty green foliage, cooler tones and reduced magenta and oranges, as to best compliment the asian skintone market. The white tone is very clean – shooting white garments generally stay pure white, whereas other film stocks give a slight creamy tinge to them. This makes this film a total favourite for wedding photographers looking to preserve that white wedding dress. As with all films, you should really shoot in open shade, total shade or backlit from the sun, so that the subjects face is not in direct hard light. All the images from the days shoot were shot at f1.8 on a basic Nikkor 50mm 1.8 lens from 1980, attached via a converter to my Canon EOS 5 semi-pro film body.
I always try and introduce some movement and extremely shallow depth of field into my shots, to give a lifestyle magazine feel to them. I feel the movement creates interest, a little blur and a little out of focus gives them a real and almost voyeuristic experience to the images, in comparison to static shots. I’m also completely fine with lens flares and nice little surprises which you always find when shooting film, so leave my lens hood off. Of course, if you wanted to shoot at higher apertures this film will work particularly well. Chromatic aberrations and highlight glow (on the shoulders of the model where the sunlight hits her directly) will be reduced by using higher end lenses or just avoiding any direct light contact in general.
It’s time to compare this film against its European rival, the German Kodak Portra 400.
Kodak Portra 400.
You should treat both films in the same way in regards to model placement, metering and box speed settings. The only differences you’ll get from each are the availability, price and colours. Portra is much easier to find in stores, about 40% cheaper to buy and more pleasing for caucasian skin tones. Due to the colour profile of the film being modeled on central European skin, the reds and magentas are higher and there is the aforementioned creamy highlight base to the images as if every picture was shot through a very slight cream filter. At around £6 a film however, you may be able to start on this film quicker than the 400H. The skin tones on the model are much redder, the more you overexposure the film the paler this redness will get. The highlights will blend into a golden sheen and the greens are lush and vivid, not minty and pale. The advantages of Kodak don’t just end here though, you can find the Portra in 160, 400 and 800 ISO ratings, whereas Fujifilm only stay at 160 and 400 ISO ratings. Medium format is also harder to find in Fuji as it is in Kodak, depending on the camera system you are using. Take time to look at the images in this post for comparisons, note which colours are most important to you and buy accordingly. At the end of the day you really only have to care about how the skin tones of your model are coming out, and with the knowledge that Kodak is geared towards caucasian skin whilst Fuji towards Asian skin tones, this might help you decide your future film stock.
Personally, I’m much more of a fan of Kodak films for any kind of work, but don’t let me sway you. Each film has its own unique colour renditions. In the grand scheme, both these films outrank all other stocks available. You can be more adventurous and use other films such as Ektar on portrait and fashion shoots, however nothing will give you the realistic tones as these two films will. In a future post, I’ll let you know how these films compared against an old, out of date cheap film that I had lying about. The differences are monumental.
See more of Jon’s posts on Breed here. 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.