In Development: Adventures in Film, Volume One

I got my first set of film back from the lab on Monday, and I couldn’t be more enthused! I was being careful to keep my expectations low, because I’m very much aware that it’s going to take several iterations to get a hang of the Mamiya 7 II’s meter, the characteristics of various types of film, etc. I fully expected to get back four rolls of…mostly garbage. And the first roll, which is the subject of this post, mostly is.

Which begs the question, “Why share garbage?”

Well, the reason I’m sharing this mostly-garbage is somewhat complicated…but essentially, I thought it would be fun to create a public project out of my adventure into film. One of the reasons that I wanted to pick up film photography was that the medium encourages patience, restraint, and reflection — all of which I feel like I need to consciously practice due to the onslaught of their opposites permeating modern society. Posting every film photo I take will just add another layer of incentive to slow down and take my time with the process of making images (just in case the ~$3 cost of every shutter click wasn’t enough…).

Another, less selfish, reason is that I think it might be entertaining to document the process of failing over and over and (hopefully) learning. We’re bombarded by (blessed with?) phenomenal images no matter where we click these days, and this can produce very strong emotions of discontent and despair with our own work. Sometimes we forget that every phenomenal image is standing on the shoulders of hundreds or thousands of failed images. Making good art is a process, and the failures are integral to the process. By publicly documenting my own failures, I’m hoping to forcibly remind myself of this fact. I shouldn’t hide or be ashamed of my failures because they’re necessary to the process. And who knows, maybe documenting this process will inspire and/or help others who are considering embarking on a similar journey.

The shots below primarily consist of experimentation. The goal wasn’t to make good art with these images (although I wouldn’t have minded had that happened!), but rather to prepare to make good art with future images. I wanted to get some practice using the camera and see what I could learn along the way. Here are my top few takeaways:

  1. Shooting with expired film is ok! The film I used expired in 2006, and it still turned out fine. It had been refrigerated for most of that time, which probably helped since this is supposed to extend the usable timeframe. I’ve heard that color film tends to experience color shifts when used long after its expiration date, so that’ll be another test I’ll have to run…but I won’t worry too much about shooting long-expired black and white film going forward.
  2. When in doubt, overexpose. I was cautious not to underexpose, as I’ve heard that film (especially black and white) has a very good exposure latitude in the highlights. It’s much easier to lose detail in the shadows than to lose detail in the highlights, provided it’s developed well.
  3. Grain with T-Max 400 on medium format is very low and is barely noticeable at the size that I’m going to be typically viewing images.
  4. Shooting with a single ISO throughout an entire roll of film, which often spans many different lighting situations, is very difficult. This makes following #2 above tough. Fortunately, since the grain with medium format is so small, this means I can probably get away with using higher ISO film as an added safety margin.
  5. A lot of my pictures seemed a little…muddy. Even though I was shooting in some very high-contrast situations at times (e.g., the shots in the trees along the Poudre river), there wasn’t a ton of tonal separation. I’m not sure if this is a product of the great exposure latitude of film or something else. I’m not too concerned about it at this point because it’s relatively easy to add contrast in post-processing…but this is something I’m going to monitor and research as time goes on.

All photos were shot on a Mamiya 7 II with the 80mm (39mm equivalent) lens on Kodak T-Max 400 (expired 2006). They were developed and scanned by, and they were processed very minimally in Lightroom (mostly cleaning up dust spots and tweaking contrast). Enjoy!

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