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Photography Tips


What's the best film to buy?

Why are there different types of film?

Why do my enlargements look different from the original set of prints?

What is cropping?



Whats the best film to buy?

Well....that depends.....
....on a lot of things.

Are you taking pictures inside or out? If inside, are you using flash or available light (or in some cases available dark)? And how far from your subject will you be, how powerful, or weak, is your flash? If you are outside, are you at the beach, in the city, or in the forest? Are you taking "snap shots" for you photo album or are you taking "artistic" photos you want to frame and hang on your wall. Then there's the matter of your equipment. What kind of camera do you have? Is it a SLR with a zoom, interchangeable lens, and adjustable shutter speeds or is it a do everything "point and shoot" with automatic shutter and aperture settings. Are you taking pictures of still or moving subjects? Do you want color prints, slides, or black and white prints?

Sound like a lot to think about? Well it's not really, and the choice of film isn't that complicated either. To begin with, think about where you will be for the majority of your shots, mostly inside, mostly outside, or about even for both. For each situation, will it be well lit or not so bright? If you have a flash it's just like carrying your own portable sun. So wherever you are with a flash, it's just like being outdoors on a bright sunny day, if your flash is macho; or like being outdoors on a slightly cloudy day, if your flash is a little wimpy. But if you don't have a flash, you will need a higher speed film that's more sensitive to light for inside or for under dense foliage.

Next decide what speed film will fit the situation. Film speed, or ASA now called ISO, is a measure of how sensitive to light you film is. Slow film is less sensitive to light than fast film, and has a lower ISO number. Slow film (100 or less ISO) is for really bright light and faster speed film (400, or higher ISO) is for low light. And if you're dividing your shots between dark and light, a medium speed film (200 ISO) will be what you need. In spite of what a certain commercial running on tv says, you can't get great results from one film speed in all lighting conditions, but you can get acceptable results with a general purpose speed film.

Along with the light level you must think about how important sharpness and color are to your photos. Lower speed films are sharper and have more vivid color than the faster films, but if you need the speed for the lighting conditions you will have to sacrifice some sharpness to get the image. I like to always be prepared to get a shot I would like to hang on my wall or give as a gift, so I try to keep slow film in my camera and a short roll of fast film on hand as a "just in case". While you can tell a difference between snap shots on slow film and snap shots on fast film, today's better films are very sharp compared to older films and just about any speed will do for snap shots. But for enlargements of 8x10 or bigger, 100 or 200 speed films are best. Slower speed films contain less silver, that's why they are less light sensitive, and are less expensive. So using high speed film is less cost effective. If you are dealing with low light, without flash, high speed films are usually a necessity.

As I said above, a flash is a small portable sun. Just as the distance from the sun affects how bright it looks, so does the distance of your flash from your subjects affect how much light gets to your film. When your subjects are farther away from your flash, and your flash is not a He Man type flash, you can help it out by using a higher speed film. For instance, a point and shoot camera's flash with 100 speed film will only illuminate subjects to about 8 or 10 feet away. 200 speed film will make your flash "reach" 12 or 15 feet and 400 speed film will extend it's range even farther.

For best results with most point and shoot type cameras we recommend 200 speed film. This also is a very good general purpose film if you will be inside and outside, and for flash pictures both near and far.

Last of all, what do you want for your final result? All of the above will apply whether you shoot color print film, black and white print film, or color slide film. You can get reasonably good b&w prints from color print film but you usually can't get good b&w prints from slides. You can get reasonably good slides from prints and good prints from slides if the slide is good. Poorly exposed slides do not make good prints. In general it's always best to shoot the type of film you need rather than to try to change the results later.

So here's the routine:

First, where will I be?

Bright light : 100 or 200 speed film
Low light (with or without flash) : 400, 800, 1000, or faster speed film
Both : 200 speed film

Second, if with flash, how far away will I be?

Small rooms (apartment) : 100 or 200 speed film
Large rooms (Banquets, stage, etc.) : 200 or 400 speed film

Third, do I want slides, color prints, or black and white prints?

Color print film
Black and white print film
Color slide film

Not sure of any of the above? Use 200 speed color print film, or if you are the timid type, use the less sharp and higher contrast 400 speed film. See, just three (or one) easy steps that will save you money and frustration.


Why are there different types of film?

Each film will have it's own pros and cons. In general, slow films will give the best color, contrast, resolution, grain structure, and usually be less expensive. High speed films will allow you to shoot in low light or freeze the action of fast moving objects, but will have higher contrast, less intense color, and cost a bit more.

Films that are slow, low ISO number, won't allow you to get a shot in low light. They will give you the sharpest picture, and the best color, when you are in a well lit setting. In general an ISO of 100 or less is considered slow film. High speed films, high ISO number, will allow you to get a picture in low light settings, but will be more grainy and have higher contrast than the lower speed films. Films with ISO of 400 or more, are considered high speed films. 200 speed film is considered high in absolute terms but is considered slow if you are in a very low light setting. So 200 speed film is thought of as a general purpose film which will allow you more latitude if you are going back and forth from bright to dim lighting. 200 speed films are usually medium contrast films and can give better results than 400 speed films for contrasty subject matter, such as a white wedding dress against a black tuxedo.

Grain refers to the size of the microscopic balls of silver that are in the film’s emulsion. Higher speed films are more sensitive to light and have larger grain than the smaller grain in lower speed films. When someone refers to a picture as being grainy, they mean that the picture has a pebbly, or rough and undefined look, when it is enlarged beyond the film’s capability. Slower speed films, because of their fine grain structure, can be enlarged more than fast films before grain becomes a problem.

Some newer and better (read more expensive) films, such as the Kodak Royal Gold and TMax films, have what is called T-Grain technology. This means that the microscopic balls of silver have been sliced into tablets. This allows the silver particle to be flatter, without the hills and valleys of the balls, and give a higher resolution than the previous traditional films. I like these films a lot, especially for low light situations. I recently shot a job for someone, and had to use 400 speed film and do 8x10 prints for them. The 8x10's were extremely sharp with no sign of grain. For situations like that, you can't beat the T-Grain films.

Another great use for the T-Grain films are when you want a very large photograph. Most 35mm films are limited to enlargements of no bigger than 16x20. And that usually means that everything was done right, low speed film, tripod, critical focus, high shutter speed, etc. If it's a high speed film, handheld, and slow shutter speed, you probably can't go bigger than 8x10 without the flaws showing up. But if you want something really big, especially from a high speed film, then a T-Grain film may be what you need. I've see 20x30 enlargements from T-Grain films that were shot handheld and looked very good for that size enlargement.

To recap the basics, low film speeds give you: lowest cost, sharpest image, lowest contrast, and best color. High speed films make picture taking in low light and indoors without flash easier but, have higher contrast, less resolution, slightly less intense color, and cost more because of the extra silver in the emulsion.


Why do my enlargements look different from the original set of prints?

Many people think that the first print produced from their negatives or digital files is the correct rendition of that image. Well, it may or may not be the best possible print from the image. In a color negative there are no absolute values. In other words, you can tell that something in the negative is green, but you cannot tell how green, or what shade of green it is. The level of green is deduced by how other things in the picture look. So the first print produced from a negative is simply an educated guess as to what the photographer saw when shooting the negative. This is also true with digital prints. For digital prints to always look the same, your monitor has to be calibrated on a regular basis. This is not possible with a lot of lap tops, and LCD screens will look different if your head is not in the exact same place everytime you look at it. So just because an image looks one way on your screen, that doesn't necessarily mean that what you are seeing is correct.

When printing enlargements without a guide ("original") print, there will almost always be some differences due to the ability to print the negative in a literally infinite amount of different ways. Think about looking at a scene through different colored sunglasses, green, amber, rose, etc. We don't always have the benefit of having the original 4x6 print at the time that we are doing an enlargement, so we try to print them in what we find to be a pleasing rendition. This rendition may or may not match the first 4x6 print. And often times the original 4x6 print is not the best print possible anyway. Especially if done by a cut rate processor.

We strive to make the best possible print, but some subjects can look good with a wide variety of renditions. Sunsets and flesh tones are two perfect examples. Sunsets are usually a monochromatic scene and can be made to enhance any one color of the spectrum. You can make a sunset be anything from predominately purple to predominately green, if you so desire. Flesh tones are also tricky. Everyone knows what an average flesh tone looks like, but without knowing the person involved, a printer doesn't know the exact flesh tone of the person in the picture. Once again the printer must make an educated guess based on other information in the scene.

Anytime that you have a print that you like, it is a good idea to send it with the order as a guide print, so that we can match the color and density. We always hope that we are getting a result close to, or better than, the first 4x6 print but we really have no way of knowing without being able to see the original print. The vast majority of the time we do get a result as good or better than the original print, but sometimes unfortunately, we do not get close to the original print. There is a lot of interpretation involved in producing a color print, and try as me might, we sometimes don't interpret the image the same way as the previous print was interpreted.

There are also differences in the paper and chemistry used in making the print. Like films and digital sensors, papers have different color and contrast characteristics. So an image produced on a type of paper that accents the red colors in an image will look different from a paper which may accent the blue colors of an image. So even with a guide print, a printer may not be able to match your guide completely. Most 4x6 prints are done on a paper with a high contrast to make the prints taken with an inexpensive snap shooter camera look sharper. This helps images that may not be as sharp as an image that is taken with an expensive camera. A larger image however, should be done on a lower contrast paper in order to show the fine detail and wide tonal range available in the image.

If given the 4x6 print, with which you are satisfied, it should be no problem to at least come close to that in a larger print. There will always be minor differences due to the differences in paper, the aging of the original image, and sometimes I think the phase of the moon. Just kidding, but sometimes a print will just never look right no matter what we do to it. This is probably due to something going on in the image itself, like premature aging due to improper development, or exposure to chemical fumes such as moth balls or other household products, or digital enhancements that have been done over time.

To get the best possible enlargement from your negatives and digital files you must know what you want, have a printer willing to work with you to achieve it, and be able to convey your view of the print to your printer. This is usually best done by a guide print. You can even send a bad guide print, one too yellow for example, with a request that the enlargement be less yellow. Most of all, you need to have an experienced printer who knows what the negative, file, and paper are capable of producing. When you find a good printer you will quickly realize that they will produce for you, the best print from your images with little or no input for most of your images, and only need direction for the really tricky scenes.


What is cropping?

Cropping is essentially creating a new picture from an original picture by cutting out or ‘cropping’ the top, bottom, or sides of the picture. You can use cropping to get rid of things in the picture that you don’t like or you can crop to a single person in a group shot. Cropping is also used when a print of a certain size needs to be converted to a different size print. For example if you have a 4x6 print and want to produce an 8x10 of the same picture, you will need to crop off some of the top and bottom to make the picture fill up the whole 8x10 size. This occurs due to the size ratios of the different prints. If you want to try out cropping, most all photo editing software comes with cropping tools for you to use.

One thing to keep in mind when cropping is proportions. A 4x6 print when printed as a 5x7, 8x10, or 11x14, will loose some of the image from the long side of the print. 8x10's are the same proportions as a 4x5 print, so there is no way to have all the information in a 4x6 print in an 8x10 print.

Clockwise: original 4x6, cropped for a 8x10, cropped for a vertical 8x10







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