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Types Of Film

Lesson 2 from: Introduction to Black & White Film Photography

Daniel Gregory

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Lesson Info

2. Types Of Film

Next Lesson: The Film Scale

Lesson Info

Types Of Film

So basically there's two types of film. There's conventional films and there's what we call tabular films. Conventional films are what existed going back to the earliest days of film photography and the structure that's in there is grain. So grain is a part of the film and the film basically has a couple of layers. So there's an anti-halation layer. There's the film base. Then there's the emulsion. And then sometimes there's an anti-scratch layer on top of the film. But in that emulsion is silver halide. The silver halide is the component that catches the photons of light and actually turns it into the photograph. When we're looking at conventional films the biggest marker there that distinguishes them from tabular is the grain structure. So the grain is that little piece of silver that catches the light. Conventionally they look like little boulders, they look like little rocks that are suspended in the emulsion. Tabular films, the first one introduced was Kodak T-max, produced 1988. ...

That particular film, it's a flagstone. So it looks like a flat piece of rock. Now, for Kodak and ultimately for Ilford who developed the Delta film which is tabular. Well what's great about that is that's 30% less silver. Now I am a person who always believes when it comes to silver content in my film that more is better. It's a richer film, it's a silver rich film. But the tabular films because of the shape, actually have similar properties to what we would've had from the conventional and they create gorgeous, absolutely gorgeous renderings of skin tone and gradations. And so they just have a different characteristic. I still shoot some of my images on tabular film. Most of my film is conventional. But I still do use T-Max and Delta film sometimes because of the unique qualities they have. The other interesting piece about conventional films is under there is a bunch of sub classifications. We have what's called orthochromatic films. So conventional films and tabular films today are what we call panchromatic which means they respond to the wavelength spectrum that's most close to human vision. So they respond to visible light. Orthochromatic films ignore the red spectrum. So if you look at films that were taken in the 1910's, 20's, 30's, 40's, Hollywood kinda had that beautiful glowy skin tone, those films were orthochromatic. We also have documentary film which is designed for high resolution, fine line detail, so if you're taking photographs of, like a document or line art you could use a film like that. We also have infra-red film which pays attention to the infra-red spectrum or the near infra-red spectrum. And that film is absolutely amazing. Everything glows. In black and white is this incredible poppy glow of white. There's not a lot of infra-red films available today. Most of them are near infra-red. A company named Roly makes one. Ilford used to or might still make a near infra-red film. But they come out in small batches so people hoard them pretty quick when they come out. And there's a few other types of conventional films in there but for the most part you gonna have one of those two types of films. Like I said at the end of the day, they're both about equal. When we're trying to understand what the film can do though, one of the first places you should start is with the data sheet. So these are samples of a number of different films data sheets. So every time you buy a film You're gonna come in a little box, you're gonna pull out a little box, you're gonna put in the camera. But you have no idea what that film does. How does that respond? How does one film vary to the other? One of the ways to do that is to buy a lot of film and to do a lot of testing. The other place to start, cause you're still gonna buy a lot of film and do a lot of testing. That's just what we're gonna do. But we start with these data sheets. And what the data sheets, like in this film back here, this is the spectral sensitivity and wavelengths. These down here are characteristic curves which we're gonna talk about in a little bit. Over here is like development times so if you're gonna use a certain developer it gives you a starting point of how long do I leave myself in the developer. They also talk about what does the film do. So like in this case, this is for triacs. It's got a wide exposure latitude, it's known for it's high sharpness, it's gradation. So there's some information there that kinda gets you started because if you're a person that doesn't like high contrast you're like, "No I like a really soft muted contrast." You could look at the data sheet and be like, "High contrast out, high contrast out, medium contrast, Okay I probably could start with that one." So these data sheets are a great place to start. The other thing is they also have your hazardous information so if there's anything you need to know about the film, and we'll talk about this in segment two in film development but there's certain films that can't be exposed to certain chemistry, it would be in the data sheet. So we start there and that gives us a real good sense of what's possible with the film. So I like to start with these. When I'm looking at a film, when I'm starting to research a film, I like to use those. For those of you who are digitally minded, you're thinking about coming back to film, one of the other things you can use these data sheets for is if you see here there's this wavelength here it's a little blurry, but it's this little wavelength and it tells you that where it's higher it's more sensitive to certain colors. So when we make the conversion of our normal negatives and our normal digital captures into black and white, if you know that a certain film you like is more responsive to red vs blue, you can make those adjustments on the slider in Photoshop and start to mimic closer to your black and white film. So what you shoot with film and what you shoot digitally start to get closer and closer together. So it's a way to blend the benefit of both worlds. But I like to start here. So this piece is really important but when it comes to thinking about film, like I said, everybody starts with price. And film's not cheap. I mean it's cheaper than buying a new digital camera if you amateurise it out up to a point. But you know, you buy a roll of film, it's $7. If you're gonna develop your own black and white film you're not that expensive, a dollar or two. If you're gonna have a lab do it you're looking at another $7, so now about $14. So roll film, this stuff is a good place to start. Nice and cheap. So we're gonna but the film and everybody thinks about cost. But what I'm gonna talk about next are the things I think you should think about before you think about cost. And the first is the grain. The grain ultimately defines in many ways the look of the film. It determines the, how the gradations are gonna work. It determines how the contrast gets played. It determines a lot of different factors. Now the thing about grain is it is completely under the control of the manufacturer in terms of the size, the amount of grain, and the positions of those grains on the film. When we choose our developers we get to manipulate that a little bit. We get to control how sharp are the edges, does the silver re-plate back onto existing grain, can we shape the contrast a little bit, can we affect the local micro contrast areas? But for the most part we can't go ad-grain. We can't fundamentally change a tabular film into the look of a conventional film. Those things are gonna be pretty consistent. The other piece that happens is somebody will look at a piece of film and say, "Wow, that's really grainy." That has a lot of graininess is our word. Well, when we talk about graininess that is completely subjective. So one person's graininess is another person's, "Wow, I could really use a lot more grain there." So when we talk about true "graininess" what we're looking at is granularities. That's the scientific measurement of the grain in it's response to the different developers. The reason I bring that up is a lot of times as we starting to work with any type of photograph, any type of photography, we get the question of, what is actually true and what is subjective. And oftentimes we present the subjective as the fact. And grain is one of those things where we get in that position of what actually is truly grainy. Now the other great part about that is we can do some things to accentuate the grain, so we can shift those pieces but still at the end of the day, the grain is very specific. The next thing we really wanna think about with film, I try to kinda think about grain and I think about, do I want the effects of tabular, the effects of a conventional, how much grain do I want? Do I want a really fine grain film, do I want a courser grain, you know, what does that structure look like? I start to think about contrast. There's three types of contrast that we think about when were talking about a film. We think about macro contrast which is the contrast across the whole image. So when we're working in the black and white analog darkroom when we're making analog prints, we have a filtration system in there that helps with the contrast and that filtration grade goes from 00 meaning very flat amount of contrast being applied to the paper because the negative had a lot of contrast. And 5 is a very high contrast print. So the negative works in combination with that. So that macro contrast, do I use a number 2 filter which is kinda middle of the road, do I use a 0 filter, do I use a 3 filter in the printing process is determined by the contrast. When I go into photoshop, if I scan my image in, how far I have to move that gamma slider and levels is gonna be determined by contrast. How much contrast is gonna exist within the film. So that macros across the whole level. A regional is like a part of the image. So how do the gradations and contrast work across say a sky or a large volume of a rock, or if I'm doing a portrait the skin tones would be considered a kinda regional larger adjustment. And the last one is the micro contrast. The micro contrast sits with the really fine details. So how much contrast can you see in my hair, in my shirt, in my pants. The edge of the monitor, can I see contrast within the monitor? What are all the different elements that allow me to see what's actually happening from a contrast perspective? Those three things ultimately dictate how the films gonna look and in some ways how you're gonna process it. Because contrast is another one. It's sort of into the film but we can push, pull an extend with the developer. And you're gonna hear that over and over and over again. The film is the base and then because I've got so many options in the development I can really manipulate a lot of these different pieces.

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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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