Ilford PanF 50 Plus in the Photography Studio

By TED SMITH

In this article, I briefly discuss use of Ilford PanF 50 Plus in the studio for portraiture – specifically, mother and baby styled shoots

I’ve been a photographer for a long time. Since the late 1980s in fact when I was a teenager, and somewhat professionally since 2007. Around 2010, I commonly used the Fujifilm lines of black and white films extensively, most notably with the original Fuji Acros and Neopan 400.

As the years rolled by, relying on Fujifilm for a consistent portfolio was looking increasingly somewhat perilous. I started to fear that the film I was using to create a “branded style” might not be available, and sure enough, in the case of Acros v1, that soon became the case. So I started to explore more of the Ilford and Kodak lines. Most notably, Kodak Tri-X 400 which helped me create some very dramatic and atmospheric photographs but I missed that very fine look and nice contrast that I always achieved easily with Acros. So I started to dabble with Ilford lines such as Delta 400, Delta 100, FP4 and HP5, knowing of course they were (and still are) a reliable staple for black and white options.

The FP4 and HP5 films are used a lot by many photographers of course but personally I always seemed to struggle with getting the looks I wanted, though I might add I was not especially pushing or pulling films at that time.

Eventually, I started playing around with Ilford PanF 50 Plus and found that it was a very nice, but very peculiar, film. Why do I say peculiar? Well, its slow speed suggests it needs a lot of light of course – many ISO50 or 100 films are generally marketed for use on sunny days. So the natural assumption would be to use it outdoors on a bright sunny day. But, it is a very “contrasty” film I soon realised. So using it at midday in the summer presented me with some challenging images, full of solid blacks in some areas and solid whites in others. For summer day activities I therefore found it not to be ideal. But, its high contrast made me realise it would be ideal for my evolving studio portfolio wherein high contrast black and white was “my jam”.

I have a bit of thing for those high contrast 1920’s style of photographs. We will all be familiar with the “old Hollywood” style of portraiture of glamorous ladies under strong directional light on black furniture and the like. I theorised that Ilford PanF 50 might be a reliable and affordable route to those kinds of images.

During 2021 the family and I undertook some major household renovation work, and part of that work was to facilitate my life long ambition of creating a home studio and darkroom printing area. It may have took me the best part of 30 years to get there, but I had got there in the end, complete with 3 professional grade Bowens flash heads, backdrops, softboxes and umbrellas.

Teds home studio taking shape
Teds home studio taking shape

So I started to experiment with Ilford PanF 50 Plus in my now fairly new studio setup at the end of 2021 using my Hasselblad (so I am referring to 120 format of course).

The first subject (or victim!) was my dog! I was not expecting great things as I was still learning the finer details of studio lighting work, but once I developed the rolls from that mini-shoot, I nearly fell off my chair with surprise. The negatives were like little sheets of glass, with perfectly exposed frames, and very solid looking contrast between dark and bright – just as I had been looking for. On digitisation of the negatives, I was delighted with the results and concluded I was either an amazingly gifted studio photographer, or that studio photography was not as hard as I had first assumed given a basic understanding of studio strobes! I concluded the latter, of course!

Black and white dog photograph captured by Ted Smith Photography

Black and white dog photograph captured by Ted Smith Photography

Black and white dog photograph captured by Ted Smith Photography

A few more experiments with some friends of ours, and of course my own family (most notably my kids) followed

Portrait photograph in black and white of my friend who also happens to be an actual ironman by Ted Smith Photography

Portrait photograph in black and white of a young ballet dancer by Ted Smith Photography

Portrait photograph in black and white of a blonde lady by Ted Smith Photography

Portrait photograph in black and white of a cockapoo by Ted Smith Photography

Portrait photograph in black and white of a cockapoo by Ted Smith Photography

and soon after I had a try with a mother and baby shoot as part of marketing campaign – all the black and white shots were captured using Ilford PanF 50 Plus, with the colour shots captured using our traditional portraiture staple; Kodak Portra 400. Once again, the results from the Ilford PanF 50 were outstanding by my judgement.

Black and white mother and baby photography shoot by Ted Smith Photography

Black and white mother and baby photography shoot by Ted Smith Photography

Black and white mother and baby photography shoot by Ted Smith Photography

Black and white mother and baby photography shoot by Ted Smith Photography

By now I had concluded that although Ilford PanF 50 is a fine grain slow film that requires a lot of light, I discovered that it excels in a lot of balanced light, which one can achieve with studio lighting, especially with softboxes. So it struck me as the perfect film for studio portraiture. That is not to say, of course, that other films like Kodak Tri-X 400, the reintroduced Fuji Acros vII or other Ilford films are not equally perfect. They are, but they are also twice the cost of Ilford PanF 50 Plus (at least the Kodak and Fujifilm choices are) and the other Ilford films I used didn’t quite seem to match PanF 50 for me, though in fairness, I did not experiment that much – when I find something I like, I stick with it!

So a few months later I used it again with another mother and her new baby, along with the babies Dad. This was an interesting session because men are photographed less commonly in these scenarios from my experience. But this particular Dad was all too happy to captured with his new baby. It was also an added bonus that he was a very tall and handsome chap so I tried my hand at creating imagery that I often recalled from the 1990s when “Athena” was a goto place for posters – this was the era of the print, of course, prior to digital display of everything. There was a famous photograph of a male model with a baby that was made into a poster and bought in its millions the world over. Well, I tried my hand at creating something similar and the results were very pleasing to me, as they were to the mum and dad of this shoot.

Mother and baby photography shoot in black and white by Ted Smith Photography

Mother and baby photography shoot in black and white by Ted Smith Photography

Mother and baby photography shoot in black and white by Ted Smith Photography

Mother and baby photography shoot in black and white by Ted Smith Photography

Moving forward, I hope for the chance to shoot more of Ilford PanF 50 in the studio like this as I now feel I have developed a fairly dependable workflow. There are not many photographers that I know of who use Ilford PanF 50 frequently for professional work, aside from the well known model photographer, MrLeica.com and also Craig Fleming who, quite famously, uses Ilford lines to photograph celebrities and for which Ilford has produced a dedicated film of his work on YouTube. So I am hoping to be one of those who does use it almost exclusively. If you are one of the photographers who uses it for studio work too, please do comment below so I can follow your activity and see your results.

Lastly, here is the studio rigged up from a recent shoot, kind of “it in action”, so to speak.

Ted Smith Photography Studio
The studio in action

Ted

www.tedsmithphotography.co.uk

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Comments

Andy Smart on Ilford PanF 50 Plus in the Photography Studio

Comment posted: 12/02/2024

I used to use PanF (no plus) a lot back in the 70s and 80s, shooting it outside in the UK; in retrospect this sounds wierd as we're not known for bright light here much of the time, but at the time it all seemed to work out. I'm not sure why I chose it looking back, I just remember doing so. These days I've never felt the need to try the modern plus version, but I do like a bit of contrast so maybe...
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Alex on Ilford PanF 50 Plus in the Photography Studio

Comment posted: 10/02/2024

Interesting article and very impressive pictures. I’m about to spend the weekend shooting natural light portraits on Tri-X, but am inspired to experiment with strobes and PanF 50 next week!
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TED SMITH replied:

Comment posted: 10/02/2024

Great to hear. And thanks for adding your thoughts. I use Tri-X in the studio too when I can and that too looks incredible. A few times I’ve used a mix of them both in the same shoot. It’s sometimes easy to muddle them up when looking at them afterwards! My next article is likely to be about that (TriX in the studio) actually.

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Paul Quellin on Ilford PanF 50 Plus in the Photography Studio

Comment posted: 08/02/2024

Great article Ted. I switch from camera to camera too much, mostly testing the latest one I have cleaned up and repaired. I shot a roll of PanF through a Mamiya C220 and some of the shots had an appeal, including one night scene. I too had thought I ought to be looking for strong daylight really, but maybe not. You have inspired me to get some more and experiment much more (when I have worked through some of the HP5, Tri-X and various others waiting in the fridge). Very enjoyable images, thank you.
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TED SMITH replied:

Comment posted: 08/02/2024

Hey Paul - thanks for the insight and kind words. I am happy to hear you may reconsider PanF. I think its great once you know how and where it excels. I must admit to being very "stuck in my ways". I've used the same three cameras for the last 25 years or so! The Olympus OM10 since the early 1990s, the Nikon F5 since 2008, and the Hasselblad since 2012. They're all I use. And I think it helps build a consistent output in the 35mm and 120 realms. But we all operate differently - I am just not very flexible. I've also only ever used Ilfotec DD-X. Never used any other developers. I'm quite odd!

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Julian Tanase on Ilford PanF 50 Plus in the Photography Studio

Comment posted: 08/02/2024

Those are exceedingly beautiful photographs, Ted, really great! I have used extensively PanF 50 in the past, but nowhere near with results such as yours. Those creamy and velvety tones remind me of the long gone APX 25, which was my favourite film for portraits. Thank you for showing these, indeed a joy !
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TED SMITH replied:

Comment posted: 08/02/2024

Bless you Julian for taking the time to write your thoughts and for the high praise. I think much of the credit has to go to both the film and also the Bowens lighting rig. I invested in a good number of the traditional strobes that are “old fashioned” by today’s LED standards but I think they create a beautiful effect. I’ve also just bought a fresnel! That should be fun trying that out. Thanks again for commenting.

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Gary Smith on Ilford PanF 50 Plus in the Photography Studio

Comment posted: 07/02/2024

I take it your studio and darkroom are a success based on the included images!
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TED SMITH replied:

Comment posted: 07/02/2024

Hey that is nice of you to say Gary. I guess you could say it kind of is....when I can get people in it. So photographically, I get a good hit rate with those who I get in. But getting people in is a struggle. I have found it hard, and continue to find it hard, to find people who actually want this kind of work, let alone value it. So that doesn't really answer it either way. But I am trying way harder than the article probably portrays!

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Art Meripol replied:

Comment posted: 07/02/2024

These are photos that are out of reach for many with their iPhones etc. These are the kind of photos that will outlast the people in them and become more and more precious with time. I don't understand why more people do not pursue photographers like you providing this kind of special beauty for their family.

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TED SMITH replied:

Comment posted: 07/02/2024

I am beyond humbled by the kind comment from you and the others like you. It’s truly most unexpected and welcome indeed. After many years of trying to make an impact in the world of photography I had started to feel like giving up. But this comment and the others are inspiring for sure. Thank you for taking the time to scribe it. Truly appreciated.

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Philip Lambert on Ilford PanF 50 Plus in the Photography Studio

Comment posted: 07/02/2024

Splendid, Best black and white I've seen in years. Phil
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TED SMITH replied:

Comment posted: 07/02/2024

Well that is a lifting comment to read before bedtime. Bless you Phil for the kind words. Not everyday I hear that. Never, actually!

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Geoff Chaplin on Ilford PanF 50 Plus in the Photography Studio

Comment posted: 07/02/2024

Fabulous images and making great use of the film!
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TED SMITH replied:

Comment posted: 07/02/2024

That's very kind of you Geoff. Many thanks

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Simon Forster on Ilford PanF 50 Plus in the Photography Studio

Comment posted: 07/02/2024

Nice work, Ted!
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TED SMITH replied:

Comment posted: 07/02/2024

Cheers Simon. Thanks for reading - cant remember if I spoke to you about the article when we met up - I think I did, at least in passing.

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Ibraar Hussain on Ilford PanF 50 Plus in the Photography Studio

Comment posted: 07/02/2024

Lovely article - really enjoyed your experience and process and the delicate and loving photography Pan F is a very nice film - I used to use it in a Fuji GA645 - giving lovely tones detail and superb resolution I then used a 25 ISO film - I think it was Agfa APX25 - that was even nicer!
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TED SMITH replied:

Comment posted: 07/02/2024

Thanks you for commenting Ibraar. Agfa APX25 is one I think I used some years ago - maybe around 2010 or something, but I am not sure. I definately have used some AGFA films, but most recently the 400 speed variation I think as part of a community project that Neil Piper organised.

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