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Film Speed

Lesson 4 from: Introduction to Black & White Film Photography

Daniel Gregory

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Lesson Info

4. Film Speed

Next Lesson: Film Cameras

Lesson Info

Film Speed

So, film speed. So, price, and then this is actually probably second. And everybody wants fast film, because they want to shoot in a lot of available light. Film speed's a weird thing, because the manufacturers rated ISO. I don't wanna say it's a lie, but I wanna say that it's sorta maybe not completely true. And what I mean by that is we think back to that characteristic curve we just looked at. What we want is sufficient shadow detail. You're gonna hear this from me all day. We expose for shadow with black and white film. Exposure is in the shadow, exposure builds the shadow. So if I don't give enough exposure to get significant shadow detail, there is nothing I can do to fix that. There is no amount of developer I can do, there's not a secret developer, there's not something that people like me, who have been doing film for twenty years, are like, "Oh, there's a secret sauce we have, "and we use it, we don't tell anyone." No, there's no secret sauce. If you don't have shadow detail,...

you don't have it. So one of the things that happens is oftentimes we wanna overexpose that film. That allows us to build up additional silver in those shadow details. That means that we think about film in a couple of different ways from a speed standpoint. We think about a slow film. Slow film is usually rated less than 100 ISO. If you get a black and white film and you're just getting started, and you called me and said, "Hey, Daniel, I just picked up this film. "It's Fuji Acros 100." I'm like, "Great, rate it at 50. "Set your ISO to 50." Without even thinking about it, I'm gonna cut it in half. That's gonna be my base starting point for my exposure. The film we're gonna develop in the second segment was Tri-X 400, shot it 200. I'm just gonna cut it in half. We'll talk about film testing and some things like that later in the day, but for the most part we're just gonna cut that in half. That's all about getting as much shadow detail built up as possible. So even with a slow film, really finely grained, tight grain, smooth gradations, all the benefits of that small grain, I still, from a speed standpoint, am gonna cut it even more. I then have a medium speed film. That's 100 to 200 speed. So I'm gonna get in that medium speed film. Somewhere to 100 to 200's gonna be the rating on that. Then I have what are fast films. Fast films are 320-400 to 800. Blistering fast. I know people on digital are like, "Dude, fast is like 12,800." There's no 12,800. Maybe the 800. And then we have ultra-fast films, which are greater than an ISO of 800. The interesting thing about the films that are greater than ISO 800, is like a 3200 speed film, when you actually do the testing for it, it's true film speed, which is the point at which shadow density actually builds to a certain level, actually has that film rated somewhere between 800 and 1600 for most people. So even the super fast films. Now the question I get all the time, and we'll talk about this later too with pushing and pulling film, is, "Well, but I can process and shoot the film at 3200," and you absolutely can. There's just some trade-offs that we're gonna have to make. But film speed's that big consideration. So when I take all of that together, and I take film speed, I take price, I take contrast, I take the film scale, I take the grain structure, I put that in a bag and shake it, that ultimately is the things I really need to consider with the film. I would like to be able to say that there's a simple test you can do that says, "Look at these five things "and this is the film to work with." It really is a personalized aesthetic choice, so as you start to shoot, there will be certain things in the film where as you shoot, you'll be like, "Wow, I really love the way this looks, "I really love the way this looks." Fuji Acros is an ortho panchromatic film. It responds differently to red than other films. That's why certain people like it. Tri-X, classic film, really beautiful grain structure, a lot of latitude to be pushed and pulled and played with, HP5, which is Ilford's version of Tri-X, is more contrasty than Tri-X, so if you're like, "I like the grain structure of Tri-X, "but I want a little more contrast," HP5 would potentially be a film for you. So you kinda just have to play a little bit with those different films. If you're just starting out, though, I recommend everybody kinda starts with Tri-X or HP5. They're a medium speed film, they're 400 speed film, they respond well to pushing and pulling, they're really nice, they have a lot of forgiveness in them, they work with every developer great, so those would be the kind of places I would start, and then that would let you then decide, "Do I want to do a faster film? "Do I want to try a slower film?" If you wanna get started with the tabular films, the two tabular films are Ilford Delta or Kodak T-Max. And they come in 100, 400, 3200 speed, and again if you've not shot before, I would just start with the 400. It's a great, nice, middle-of-the-road film, a lot of forgiveness, and it's gonna give you some of that light that you're used to, because with the digital, people are used to shooting to 800, 1600. Now you're not necessarily gonna have that option with the film, so it's just a great kinda middle of the place to start. My personal films are Tri-X, and then I shoot Acros, and I also am testing an Ilford film called FP4, and the reason for that is one of the other things about film is... It's interesting, as the pendulum swung, film is dying, there's never gonna be film, it's all digital, and the pendulum swung and everybody freaked out, and the pendulum's kinda worked it's way back, and we're kinda towards the middle. We actually have more black and white films now than we had 10 years ago. There's been a resurgence of interest. We've kind of hit the peak delivering point of the manufacturers and figured out how much film to sell and produce to stay profitable, so it's a great time to actually start to reenter the film market. And so, as you're testing your film though, one of the things is you wanna always have at least another film kind of in your wheelhouse. Because if for some reason a manufacturer went away, there was a problem with a certain machine or something like that... I shot a film that was one of my absolute favorite films, and the company closed. The machine was then sold to another company, and it took four years for them to get the machine moved and reassembled and retested, for the film to come back. The film came back and it wasn't exactly the same, but it was close, but it wasn't exactly the same, but if that had been my only film, I would have had to completely, (moans) throw a temper tantrum, spike things down, "I'm going to digital!" So all of those different that come together, so having a second film that you've just kind of experimented with a little bit is good If you're gonna do that, too, I would pick one at the different extreme, so if you have a faster film, maybe pick a slower film, 'cause that'll also give you just a different response as you're working with things.

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I am really fond of Daniel Gregory as a teacher. He does a great job. To me, his enthousiasm, his passion for and his dedication to film photography are infectuous. It's great that CreativeLive makes place for film photography and for such a pro teaching it. It can never do so enough for me. Thanks. I am a fan.

Texas Beauty Photography

Great class!! It's jam packed with usable information for anyone wanting to shoot, process, and print black and white images. There is so much detail presented in this class, I can practically guarantee you'll come back to it again and again. I successfully used this class to capture b/w photographs, process the negatives, capture them digitally, and finally, produce beautiful prints that I'm proud to show my friends and clients. This may well be one of the best classes on all of CreativeLive. Highly recommended!


This is an excellent course and Daniel is a great teacher! I'm coming back to shooting film and darkroom work after 20 years away. I have some wonderful film cameras sitting in my cabinet and I decided I wanted to use them--so I have decided to shoot BW with film, and shoot color with my digital cameras. I will develop the BW film myself and scan and print digitally. This class is perfect for me!

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