“An artist’s talent is found in the power of his individual opinion.” – Yusaku Kamekura, Nikon F Camera Designer
If you’re going to shoot a film camera you need to consider what film you’ll be running through it. The choice of film is perhaps the single most important influencer on your images. Numerous options appeal to whatever your creative intent is. Understanding which films possess which characteristics is key. The below is a brief breakdown of various emulsions and why one might choose over another. Something I encourage is experimentation.
Choosing your film is the first creative decision in the chain of creative decisions ultimately resulting in your photograph.
Every photograph is an interpretation of a scene. Therefore the tools with which one interprets that scene with will have a hand in directing the final image of that scene. Some people I talk to “always shoot ??? film” – I understand why: processing, standardization of chemicals, developent times and tempertures, scanner settings, etc., but I’ve really enjoyed different emulsions that yield different interpretations of a scene.
I’ve run nearly everything through my F6, always hoping I’ve made the right call for the right shot. Early in the journey “the look” I was after was been a bit of a moving target. When deciding which films to use I valued diversity, adaptability, experimentation and even dumb luck over consistency. In truth, I was afraid of becoming predictable. Formulaic. Un-original. The thought of adhering to a set of “always” and “never’s” spurned fears of stymied creativity and constricted shooting.
While the serendipitous nature of this approach is still appealing, I’ve seen too many exposed frames wind up in the reject bin because I thought the film would respond one way to the situation – but it responded differently – as in undesirably – and left me with my hand smacking my forehead and groaning. While I’m still in favor of experimentation and the surprises that await open thinking, over time my ideas have changed. What’s replaced them is a solid understanding of which film to use in which circumstance, based on the creative intent of the image.
I’ve said it before and will say it again: I don’t believe there’s a “right” or “wrong” choice here. It’s a choice the photographer makes based on creative intent; what one is attempting to convey with the image. Is it OK to shoot a Tungsten-balanced film in broad daylight without a warming filter? Absolutely. Your image will have a blue cast – but perhaps there’s a creative application for that look. It’s up to you to decide.
This isn’t an exact science by any stretch – but with enough experimentation the photographer begins to form their own thoughts of what pleases them, and what does not. One of my favorite quotes appearing at the top of the page is from the designer of the Nikon F camera, Yusaku Kamekura who said, “an artist’s talent is found in the power of his individual opinion.” This section is an attempt to share some of hard-earned lessons and save you a little time, money and anguish. Once again, treat what you read here (and elsewhere) as input with which to make your own creative decisions and always remember this is not an objective choice (one that has an absolute right or wrong answer), but a subjective choice (subject to what you prefer).
*full disclosure: these images were made with a variety of cameras including the Nikon F4S, Nikon F5 and Nikon F6 as well as medium format cameras.