Film beginner's questions

Discussion in 'Film Discussion and Q & A' started by ryunin, Jan 17, 2010.

  1. ryunin

    ryunin TPF Noob!

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    Hi everyone, I am completely new here and would like to ask some questions about film photography and photograpy in general. I am very confused about several things, although I have been looking for replies and answers to my questions all over the world, I mean books, forums, articles.

    After one year of shooting digital I could not resist to try film. Then I also read about all those advantages and disadvantages of film, I don't want to discuss that here, I think that's solved for me and I still want to shoot digital in situations I cannot handle with film.

    I had questions about film and entered one special darkroom forum and after a few posts I was more or less kicked out. My questions provoked the members and some even thought I was making fun of them. It's difficult for me to ask "proper" questions. So here I hope I find someone patient to help me in my confusion.

    I'd like to organize my priorities when learning to become a decent film photographer. I have read several books about photography and how to shoot this and that and at least with digital, using RAW I think I can handle most common exposure situations and set my digital camera properly. Of course, exposure in film is to me, a different story. I think I have covered the very basic about photography in general. Now I don't know what the next step would be and here I feel I am at an intersection. If you look at my website, you will better understand what stage I have reached and maybe suggest how to proceed further on. But I'd like to ask some very naive and maybe silly questions, I just can't answer them myself. Thank you very much.
     
  2. Josh66

    Josh66 Been spending a lot of time on here!

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    As far as exposure goes, film and digital should be more or less the same. The same techniques and rules apply. What exactly are you having trouble with?

    You did not provide a link to your website...
     
  3. ryunin

    ryunin TPF Noob!

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    The link is Roman Valek Photography

    I filled it in my profile, but probably is not shown publicly.


    I understand the rules for exposures are about the same for film and digital. When shooting digital, I use RAW and hence I can easily check if I under or overexpose. I usually underexpose a bit and work with that in Camera Raw and it works out fine. In most situation such procedure is simple, in complicated light situations I use spot metering, when for example shooting against the light or when the subject I want to define in details must not be overexposed.

    I tried the same technique with film. I rely on the meter of F75 and outdoors it works fine in 95 % cases. Indoors usually not. There is no histogram check so obviously, this is a guess game. I found out asking photographers that my problem is that I have no control over developing the negative, which, in case of difficult light conditions, has to be developed very specifically to achieve the desired results. The conclusion for me was - I have to develop myself to have control over the final negative look or to have the right exposure on it. This far I understand.

    But here is where my confusion begins:

    When asking about problems with indoor exposure and developing negatives in a forum, I got tons of advice such as:

    Why are you shooting film at all? Go back to digital, you just waste precious films. You don't deserve them.

    Don't develop negatives, learn the laws of exposure first, buy a hand held light meter and walk around the world with it, learn what it tells you.

    Don't mess up with light meters, just use matrix, it is reliable.

    Go and develop films yourself, it is cheap and easy.

    To me, they sound like very confusing answers going to all directions and pretty contradicting one another.

    I understand that different photographers will advise different things, but can we find some kind of sensible attitude that would make sense for me, as a semi-beginner whose main concern is to produce a nice photography hung on the wall that could please both a lay person and a pro? I am not sure how detailed the technical education of a photographer should be.

    Do all serious photographers need to learn all about exposure laws to make quality photos or can we rely on things like matrix metering? Should we all know about Zone System or can we rely on curves in photoshop, that according to one book I read, far exceeds the options Zone System offers? Should we learn to use manual rather than AUTO when we choose exposure and leave the camera decide the shutter speed?

    I am willing to learn any way, any direction, if it makes some sense to me.
    I have a hard time accepting things that make no sense, although sometimes it is necessary to trust a teacher, even if we don't understand.

    One thing I am sure. I am not interested in making perfectly realistic Velvia color landscape photography / I adore the photographers who can do that and am sure my skills are almost nothing compared to those guys. I am into rather harsh looking, grainy black and white photographs of people, streets and landscapes. If I want to make a smooth photo of a landscape or a person, I will choose digital for now, as I see no reason to use films for that kind of photography - yet.
     
  4. Josh66

    Josh66 Been spending a lot of time on here!

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    Wow, I hope that wasn't here.

    To answer a few of your questions:

    Yes, the Zone system is still good to know, and you should learn it. Even if you only shoot digital, you need to know this stuff.

    The meter in your camera wants to put everything in Zone V. If the object you are metering really is in zone V, all is good and you don't have to do anything. BUT - If it's in Zone II - a rock face in shadow, for example - your meter will be wrong. You will have to underexpose by 3 stops to get that shadow where it belongs.

    Curves can help - but they help a lot more when you start off close to where you want to be.

    "Just use matrix"... That just sounds like the guy who said that didn't want to take the 5 minutes it would have taken to explain this stuff to you.

    Matrix is good if the scene is relatively evenly lit. If you have bright highlights and dark shadows though... Your meter will be fooled. Spot metering is useful here.

    Keep in mind that your camera puts everything in Zone V. When you meter the shadow, what does it tell you? When you meter the highlight, what does it tell you? This is the dynamic range of the scene, and in most cases you'll probably want to expose somewhere between those extremes.
     
  5. dxqcanada

    dxqcanada Been spending a lot of time on here!

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    The thing with film is that you have four tools to manipulate ...

    Exposure of the film
    Development of the film (if possible)
    ... if you are shooting print film:
    Exposure of the print
    Development of the print

    With digital you have the exposure of the sensor
    Manipulation of the digital file
    Digital offers a level of control that is really not possible with film (or is too complex).

    If you are shooting Colour or E-6 slide film ... you do not have much control over the printing or development of the film unless you are that adventurous to do your own developing, which many do not.
    It is critical to get the exposure right during shooting.

    B+W film is another story. I was only satisfied with my B+W photography when I developed my own film and built a darkroom to print.

    I think Film shooters are overly critical of Digital shooters.
    We have this attitude that if you did not learn with a camera that did nothing else controlled shutter speed and aperture to expose the medium ... you do not know anything about photography (I am somewhat included in this category).
    Learning how to expose a specific film (as exposure latitude an sensitivity changed with different films) was something a good film photographer tried to master.
     
  6. ryunin

    ryunin TPF Noob!

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    Thank you!

    Can I now continue with a string of questions? I dont expect them to be answered all or soon, just whoever wants to answer, thanks a million.

    Zone system. I have read articles about it, but no books about it. How deep should we go to learn it? On the level of an entire book, or on the level like books that make it simple on 60 pages or Zone System Simplified or something or is one article enough?

    What confuses me too, before I even start to learn Zone system is the easiness of exposure film outdoors. I cannot understand how that Zone system can help when I am standing in a street, want to make sure the sky is not overexposed. What I do is just point the camera at the lightest spot on the sky, meter, lock it, change the composition and shoot. Then I end up with a picture I can work with - adjust contrast, curves. The exposure and negative look just spot on whenever I use this technique . I don't lose any detail in shades and can go all contrasty or not. Is Zone system unnecessary in this situation? I read an article about Spot metering that says it works just like I have just described it.

    And one more question that is directly linked with the one above. If the books say that with film you have to meter the shadows, not lights, how do I know if I overexpose sky or face? Say I want to shoot a portrait indoors. Film, I meter the darkest part of the jacket, shirt, whatever, lock exposure, change the composition, shoot. I end up with ugly overexposed face. Or not? If the light is pretty harsh, I cannot imagine how I could avoid overexposing the face, unless we talk about developing that film in a way that would shrink the dynamic range as to get well exposed lights.
     
  7. ryunin

    ryunin TPF Noob!

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    I agree, I want to try to master it. I doubt there were any great photographers in the history who didn't master the technique. On the other hand when I look at anton corbijn, it seems like a technique very easily achieved without knowing much theory. I am sure he knows his job very well, he is a pro film guy, but it seems, just seems so easy to make contrasty BW pictures. Plus I see such pictures everywhere. That confuses me a lot. So much contrast and you have to know the details about exposure? Isn't it a bit as if a punk rock guitarist wanted to master Bach?
    I am not saying I want to make just and only such contrasty looking pictures with a lot of grain and black. But wouldn't it be easy?
     
  8. dxqcanada

    dxqcanada Been spending a lot of time on here!

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    I will say that the Zone System is a great tool for those shooting/developing/printing large format.
    The key to using the Zone System is manipulating the film exposure, coupled with a development change to that frame, and finally the manipulation of the print exposure.

    You really cannot do that with roll film as you really cannot develop individual frames (as you can do with large format sheet film).

    I learned the Zone System with Large Format (4x5).
    Meter the scene.
    Visualize how different parts of the scene will appear in the final print.
    Expose the film
    Mark the that frame for the required development change
    Develop the film
    Print the film

    I carried what I learned to roll film ... which really is only learning to read/meter light (as zones) and understand exposure latitude of film.

    If you really want to know the Zone System then you need all three of Ansel Adam's books ... the Camera, the Negative, and the Print.
     
  9. ryunin

    ryunin TPF Noob!

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    From what you write it seems the Zone system is hardly applicable for 35mm photography.

    Hmmm. I will leave it now and see if there are any other comments tomorrow. Thanks for now.
     
  10. ryunin

    ryunin TPF Noob!

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    Or not. Here is what I found and it seems in accord with all you have written so far.

    The Zone System for 35MM Photographers: A Basic Guide to Exposure Control (Paperback)


    The reviews say that it is a book that won't overwhelm the reader with too much scientific analysis and can be understood by common people like I am. It's basically supposed to be for people who take photography seriously but don't have the scientific backrgound to understand Adams' books on the zone system.

    One reader said it helped him to improve his ability to control exposure a lot.
     
  11. Actor

    Actor TPF Noob!

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    Not true. There's nothing that digital offers that cannot be done with film, nor does digital offer more control. Prior to processing there are only three things to control: shutter speed, aperture and ISO. In manual mode the photographer has control over shutter speed and aperture with both digital and film. With digital you can change ISO by pushing a button while with film you have to change backs or bodies, but that's convenience, not control.

    Meaning that digital has a computer in it and you can give control to it. Taken to an extreme this line of reasoning is an excuse to buy a P&S and give up all control. -- In any case the point is not valid. My PS-20 (a film camera) has a computer in it that is just as powerful as any you'll find in a digital camera, bells and whistles excluded.
     
  12. djacobox372

    djacobox372 No longer a newbie, moving up!

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    It's as complicated or simple as you make it. Digital systems have been designed to mimic film standards, so they really aren't all that different.

    A couple things:

    1) You shouldn't underexpose negative film like you have been digital, negative film doesn't clip out the highlights like digital can--if you shoot positive slide film, then slight underexposure is a good idea.

    2) If you're coming from a digital world, consider medium or larger format film--they compliment small format digital rather well. 35mm film is more of an alternative to digital, not a compliment.
     

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