Kodak Portra 400 – My First Roll – by Simon King

August 2, 2018

Until recently my film photography had more or less been exclusively shot on either AGFA Vista 400 for colour, or XP2 for black and white. I’ve played around with Fujifilm and other Ilford stocks, but had never really needed anything more than what Vista and XP2 offered me.

However, there are a number of projects I hope to spend the next few years working on that required something more. I needed consistent results, the latitude to shoot at 1600 (I usually shoot all of my film at ei800, regardless of box speed), as well as accurate colour and sharpness. Portra 400 is a film with quite a reputation – I had avoided it because I wanted my film work to be distinct, and as different from my digital colours and approach as possible.

By introducing Portra 400 to my workflow it marks an acceptance of film as a valid professional tool for exclusive use, as opposed to being used alongside a digital option.

I loaded my first roll of Kodak Portra 400 into my Contax G1 about ten minutes after arriving at a Fashion presentation in South London, where I had been invited to photograph backstage.

After this I used the rest of the roll on days out and about in London, shooting street mainly on the 45mm Zeiss lens.

I managed to get 37 shots from the 36 exposure roll, out of which 16 were “keepers” to my eye. I’m really happy with the colours, they’re exactly what I needed them to be, with strong skin tones, and close to my favourite shades of green. I especially liked the images which combined different light sources for a cinematic aesthetic.

Thanks for taking the time to read about my experience shooting Kodak Portra 400! If you enjoyed my images here then consider following me over on Instagram! If you enjoyed my thoughts and perspective then you might enjoy my other featured articles on this site, or my own blog where I discuss my day-to-day life as an artist and photojournalist.

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  • Reply
    August 2, 2018 at 6:22 pm

    Good article, I too have only recently shot my first couple of rolls of Portra 400. I have to say the results were exactly what I wanted. Perhaps a touch brown on some but overalll I was really pleased. Keep up the good work!

    • Reply
      August 2, 2018 at 8:12 pm

      Glad you were pleased with your own results, and I appreciate the compliment 🙂 Best of luck with your future film exploration!

  • Reply
    Louis Sousa
    August 2, 2018 at 9:51 pm

    Hi Simon, the “usual” speed employed for Portra is 200 or slower, giving Portra a “light as air” feel. It’s interesting to see good results at 800. From the computer monitor, there is not as much grain as I would have expected. I like the moodiness evinced at this speed. Thanks for the post.

    • Reply
      August 2, 2018 at 9:55 pm

      Thanks for the feedback Louis! I’m not sure I’ve ever seen people recommending to pull Portra to 200, if anything that would increase saturation and contrast? I’ve read that many people prefer the results of Portra [email protected] than the actual 800 Portra stock itself! I was definitely impressed by the lack of grain, but not surprised! It’s renowned for being versatile!

      • Reply
        Adam Laws
        August 5, 2018 at 5:37 pm

        I think Louis is saying meter for 200 speed effectively over exposing by 1 stop rather than pulling in the dev’ process – I generally do the same when shooting Portra.

        • Reply
          August 5, 2018 at 5:43 pm

          Right, I suppose that makes sense. However I am setting my meter at 800 in order to underexposed the film in general.

          • Adam Laws
            August 5, 2018 at 10:38 pm

            They’re really good results and shows how much latitude the film has to offer – looking forward to seeing your future projects.

          • Simon
            August 5, 2018 at 10:41 pm

            Appreciate it Adam! I actually have an upcoming project which I’m quite excited to be shooting, and that will be exclusively on film! Looking forward to sharing the results!

  • Reply
    Dominique Pierre-Nina
    August 3, 2018 at 1:21 am

    I recently shot my first roll of colour film roll and I was Portra 400 and liked it very much, I found by giving an extra stop works better and its not as dull as metered. Currently I haveKodak Ektar 100 in the M3 so lets see what it brings. Great shots and article.



  • Reply
    August 7, 2018 at 2:28 am

    Hi Simon – great shots. I’m a little surprised, to be honest, since underexposure tends to bring out the absolute worst in film. As a rule I shoot at box or +1 and expose for the shadows, then pull the exposure down in post if I’m after a moody look. But I have to say, your way seems to work for you.

    Just on that overexposure thing again, I was once testing a lens on an old Minolta XD body with a dead meter, so I took incident readings with a handheld. Once I’d shot the whole film, I discovered that the lens’ aperture blades were stuck and I’d been shooting wide open the whole time – on a bright summers day, on a beach. Every shot would have been overexposed by at least 3 stops, and up to 10+ in the most extreme cases, so I wasn’t expecting to get anything useable back. I was stunned when every single shot came out beautifully, and I’d almost go so far as to say that up to about 6+ stops, you couldn’t even notice the overexposure. Seems Portra 400 in particular will eat as much light as you can throw at it. Since that day, when in doubt, I dial in 3 extra stops without a moment’s worry.

  • Reply
    Pushing Kodak Portra 400 to 1600 - by Simon King - 35mmc
    March 21, 2019 at 9:01 pm

    […] recently wrote about shooting my first roll of Portra 400, which I had shot at EI 800 and pushed a stop. There were a few commenters who seemed surprised at […]

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