I shoot film for all my principal photography. It is a personal choice.
My reasons for choosing film rather than digital are part technical, part aesthetic and part emotional. Ultimately, film makes me a better photographer, I enjoy the process more and I like the way the pictures look.
Film looks filmy and it’s fun to use. But I don’t want to make lite of film, film offers some serious benefits for the serious photographic artist.
There is no doubt that digital is the best option for most kinds of photography. So this is not a film versus digital debate. It is personal.
Firstly, film is an incredible teacher. My film cameras are really just dumb boxes, and film is very unforgiving when exposed to light. So when I shoot film, especially with a dumb camera, I have no choice but to learn to be a good technical photographer. If I don’t, anything creative I might try to do, probably won’t look very good. It is my keenness to learn photography which drives me towards film.
Using film puts in a particular environment which has a huge influence on how I make pictures.
The Mamiya 7II is a special camera. It shoots film and uses some of the most outstanding lenses ever made… and that’s about all there is to it.
Most camera reviews try and tell (and sell) you all the great features which a camera has. Well this film camera has very few features and yet the Mamiya 7II is one of the best cameras ever made.
In fact for many specific applications, the Mamiya 7II is most likely the best camera in the world. Its exceptional optics and simplicity of use makes it a near perfect camera for ‘walk-about’ landscape and fine art photography.
The Mamiya 7II is a medium format rangefinder film camera. It makes a 6 x 7cm image on 120 or 220 rolls film.
What is a rangefinder camera?
The key characteristic of a rangefinder camera is that you don’t look through the lens, but through a separate window which has a range finding focusing mechanism built-in. This is coupled to the focusing movement on the lens itself. The benefit of this approach is that it allows for a more perfect optical design of the actual lens than has been possible in a ‘through-the-lens’ camera system. The result is the potential for a more technically brilliant lens, a very quiet shutter and a more compact overall camera system. The Mamiya 7II meets these objectives.
What is the benefit of a photographic film camera?
Film photography has some significant benefits. While there is absolutely nothing wrong with digital, film offers some unique advantages. I have written separately here as to Why I shoot film.
Here is a quick ‘top-line’ on how I get some of the interesting colours in my Landscape Images. I’ve been asked many times so I thought I’d share my standard technique and workflow here. Nothing too tricky… I hope it is of some help.
Any further questions, please just ask. And any suggestions on what I should add in here please also let me know.I don’t use coloured filters, and I don’t ‘paint-in’ the colours via Photoshop. However, there are a few specific things that I do which combine to help me capture and produce the colours I achieve.
1. Colour Temperature and Time of Day.
It helps to “fish where the fish are”. I actively look for coloured light; colour in the sky and reflected colour, both natural and artificial. I mostly shoot at particular times of the day when the colour temperature of natural light is at its most interesting.
Time of day is critically important. I prefer to shoot in the early morning and the early evening. The specific times will vary depending on the time of the year, the weather and clarity of the air. It also depends on where in the world you are, what you are shooting and for what effect. In the morning my ‘sweet spots’ are about 45 minutes before sunrise. Also immediately around sunrise and then some early morning light in the hour just after sunrise, that is, if the later morning light is continuing to do something interesting. Although after sunrise it is very rare for me to be shooting.
I mostly avoid shooting during the day. Full sun tends to wash out the soft,rich colours that I like. I will start about 2 hours before sunset when the light starts to take on a warm angular character. At this time of day,light can be very dramatic and intense. Anytime from then until up to an hour after the sun goes down offers a world of changing light to explore. Even well after the sun has gone down there remains enough light in the sky to capture stunning images with longer exposures. It is also very interesting to shoot when the change in natural light starts to balance and mix-in with artificial light at these times of day.
An important consideration at these times of the day is that our human eyes adjust very quickly to changes in the colour temperature of light. Whereas film, and perhaps your camera, will not. What this means is that we can make our cameras capture colours which are very different from what our human eyes are capable of seeing. Morning light for example can be much more blue that we can see. As photographers we can take advantage of this.I prefer mornings over evenings as the colours in the morning are more subtle. Unfortunately it does mean getting out of bed some where between 3 and 4 am as I like to arrive at a location a full hour or more before sunrise.
An Introduction to Colour Temperature by Jeffery Seckendorf
An Introduction to Light by Karl Taylor
2. Chase the light, be patient and be disciplined.
Finding great light to shoot and being patient are the two most important contributing factors to any landscape image. Light is always changing and can be very fleeting. Some days I will travel for an hour or more to my location and then wait for a further hour or two for what might be only a few minutes of photography.Some days I will come home without taking a single shot. I am patient and will wait for the light to be just right before I shoot. I don’t hop all over the place shooting everything I see. I look for a particular location & composition then I wait for the light to be right. I’ll mostly shoot from that one spot while the light changes.
Often I might keep going back to the same location again and again to make sure I get a shot with just the kind of light and conditions that I want. Four out of five days it can be just grey and dull but on the fifth day, for just a few minutes, everything might be lit up with a soft pink or purple light. All landscape photographers know what it’s like to sit and wait. I have dozens of locations where I have never been able to get the shot I’d like.But I will keep on trying. Some days I just wish I was a B&W photographer as it would be alot easier but I love colour.
Thoughts about Landscape Photography by Travis Lovell
I shoot film for almost all my landscape work and the only colour film I use is Fuji Velvia 50.
It is a film much loved by landscape photographers all over the world. What I like about this particular film is that it soaks up the colours, particularly with long exposures. I also love Velvia’s contrasting characteristics which can add a sense of drama and emotion to a photograph. Velvia captures rich and contrasty colours but it does so with incredible tonality. I just love it. Velvia plays a significant role in the colours I capture.
Velvia’s contrasty nature can be a challenge especially at the times that I like to shoot, namely early morning and late in the day around water. Some people don’t like how Velvia captures colours and that’s ok, but I do. I am yet to try Velvia 100 but from what I have read it’s a touch less rich in colour.
Just as a side note, one reason I shoot film is that I find digital makes me lazy. Film is expensive so I need to slow down, stop, think and plan. Film imposes a greater discipline on me in all areas of composition, lighting and exposure. I just think it makes me a better photographer. I also like films grain and what I think is a greater depth of tonality. I personally don’t like the flatter and cleaner video signal of digital. There is nothing wrong with digital and I will one day make the transition to medium format digital. I want to shoot film while it’s still around. I like the idea of having a significant body of landscape work which was crafted out of the traditional medium of film.
4. Slow exposures.
Because of the low light times of day that I shoot, I’m always working with long exposures; anywhere from a few seconds to 1, 2 or 3 minutes and more. A longer exposure has the advantage that it gives the film time to soak up and intensify the soft colours at this time of day. Long exposures also capture in one image a long period of time with all the resultant movement which happens in front of the camera. This movement of water, sky and light mixes together to create wonderfully soft but rich colours. ( You will need a good quality tripod… mine is a Gitzo Carbon G1258) As a further side note I use a Sekonic L-758DR spot light meter. It is important to be able to measure the light values of different parts of the landscape that you wish to shoot so that you can develop an exposure strategy to achieve the vision you have for your image.
5. Neutral Density Filters
Neutral Density Filters are an absolute must-have for landscape photography. They do not add colour to the image because they are ”Neutral” in their tone. What they do, is control and balance the light entering the camera. For example, the light in the sky will often be significantly brighter than the light in the foreground water or rocks. I use a ND filter to hold back the bright light so that my overall exposure is more even throughout the image. This has an important influence in preventing colours from either being washed. Many of the colours I love are very subtle and can easily be lost. I use Lee Filters in both hard and soft graduation.
An Introduction to The Lee Filter System by Better Photos
An Introduction to ND Filters by Tony Sweet
6. Artificial light sources
Artificial light in your scene will also add colour to your photograph. The shot below of Sydney’s Bronte Beach Ocean Pool is green because of the artificial light which lights-up the pool before sunrise. As I’ve said, our eyes adjust to colour temperature very well but film does not. Many people think the pool must be green or that I have added colour to make the shot more dramatic. As you can see from the “Before” and “After” shots below the green has been captured by the film very strongly. When you can understand the different effects that artificial light has on film or your cameras sensor you can use it as part of your creative strategy. To achieve the “after” image I have kicked up the contrast, a vignette has been added to increase the darkness around the outer edges of the image so as to pull the eye into the middle of the image, I have retouched a few lights out and I think that’s about it for this image. You can see another interesting image of green rocks on my web site. It too is lit by the same lights as this shot. Many people could not understand how I made the image with such green rocks and again assumed that it was created in Photoshop, but not so. Fluorescent lights will tend to give you a cool or blue/green colour cast. Tungsten lights will give a warm to red cast. There are many types of artificial lights and they are often mixed within the location you are shooting. Sometimes it very hard to tell what kind of lights they are and what level of colour cast they will add to your image. Often you just need to expect to be surprised.
7. Contrast, colour balance and saturation
I’m not particularly good at Photoshop so I don’t do any tricky retouching of my images to add new colours. What I do is kick up the contrast to make the image punchy and ensure the blacks are black and not grey. I will play with colour balance to make the image true to either the transparency or pleasing to my eye and I will often increase saturation for web use as the web dulls off the colours when on the net. Here’s an example of a before and after image. The before is a raw scan off my transparency. It is more grey and less saturated than the real transparency. The final image is after I have played with the contrast, colour balance and saturation. This final is more true to the transparency I can see with my eye.
8. Location and composition
Finding the right location and making a good composition are also important to getting great colours. Maybe this is one reason why I like water. Water reflects the colours and light it ‘sees’. The sun low in the sky around water is just magic.
I use a few different cameras for my landscape work. Mostly a Mamiya 7II and a Horseman SW612. Both film cameras. The Mamiya 7II is a 6x7cm camera which takes 120 / 220 roll film.This film size is much larger than 35mm. The Mamiya 7II is basically just a simple box with a set of exceptional lenses.
Most of the Mamiya 7 lenses are among the best you will find anywhere. I use the 43mm 80% of the time and a 80mm the rest of the time. Both these lenses are spectacular. I’m not into doing equipment reviews so if your interested Ken Rockwell does a great job of reviewing the Mamiya 7 here; http://www.kenrockwell.com/mamiya/7.htm
My Horseman SW612 camera captures a 6x12cm image onto 120 / 220 roll medium format film. It too is a basic body of a camera with a set of exceptional lenses. These lenses are very sharp and they give me well saturated colour and contrast in the images that they capture